© Kat Morgenstern
Happy early spring awakenings! You have probably wondered whatever happened to the newsletter - and let me tell you, so did I! Last time I checked it was nowhere to be seen. But just recently there has been a stirring, a scratching and shuffling, and here it came, a little drowsy and slimmer than usual, but otherwise ok, crawling out of hibernation. Oops - it had gone to sleep in mid-making and I almost did not even notice it. Well, actually, if the truth be known, I did notice it - I could hear it snoring in the basement, as a grating reminder of unfinished work. So, guiltily, I kept trying to wake it up and feed it more information and articles, but it just did not want to respond. Eventually I gave up and returned to the stacks of other work that called on my attention at the time and let the newsletter slumber...until now.
Alas, spring is said to be around the corner, in fact it is equinox today - although where I am right now that is hard to believe. Occasional mild days tempt hopeful hazel catkins out to play, only to shrivel up with the next wave of frosty cold days, which inevitably linger. Oh well. Rain or shine, time is flowing by and so I thought it best to shake off the dreary winter fatigue and gear up for the coming season. Below I will share a few spring tonic secrets that may help you accomplish the same.TOP
photo courtesy of Matt at
B & T World Seeds
When the leaves have all but disintegrated beneath our feet and nothing but a few buds remain as dormant hopefuls firmly closed at the tips of branches, when only conifers and certain evergreens hang on to their green foliage I sometimes get the forager's blues. Nothing much is going to stir for at least a couple of months. But - there is one thing, all too easily forgotten, that makes a perfect foraging crop for this time of the year: Jerusalem Artichokes. Neither from Jerusalem, nor an artichoke, these cheery plants are actually a type of sunflower, although its grand cousins are far larger and have an almost supernatural quality about them, with their saucer-sized floral disk and hypnotic, spiral seed patterns. A ready food dispenser when their seeds ripen, Sunflowers are bird magnets. The Jerusalem Artichoke on the other hand at first appears as little more than a pretty garden flower whose sunny blooms provide happy summer cheer. Alas, like those languid summer days, they are equally quickly forgotten, once their flowers have withered and died. Yet, this is the moment when the clever forager (thinking ahead) should carefully mark the spot, before s/he turns her attention to other autumn delights. For once Grandfather Frost has crept across the land and chilled whatever may have been left of the summer's greenery, it is time to turn our attention to the underworld, where the life-force is hibernating deep within the womb of Mother Earth. It is now that we should return to those well marked spots with our digging sticks and poke for the tubers of the Jay Choke (also known as Sun Chokes). Be careful though, so as not to uproot the whole plant. There is no need to stock pile - they stay much fresher right there in the earth itself, where they can be dug up any time you want them. The shapes of the tubers vary considerably depending on variety. Some are relatively straight while others look like a cross between a ginger rhizome and a potato, with little knobbly protrusions all over. These types can be tedious to peel, but the good news is - one can eat them whole, skins and all. Just scrub them well with a small brush to remove all the dirt. If you do peel them, toss them into cold lemon or vinegar water to prevent them turning grey.
Although they can be collected all year around, Jerusalem Artichokes are an excellent winter crop, and best after the first frost. They originated as a Native American crop in the US, but somehow, failed to excite consumers - or perhaps proved too tedious for growers once agriculture became agri-industry and it was difficult to let machines deal with the harvest. Plus, they also bruise quite easily, which is not a great selling point as far as supermarkets are concerned However, their pretty flowers were appreciated enough to plant them in gardens, where they grow, usually wholly unrecognised for their full potential. However, they soon escaped cultivation and have re-colonized their original habitat, between the Rockies and the eastern seaboard.
Photo courtesy of Matt at
B & T World Seeds
The French introduced them to Europe in the 1600s, but unfortunately the original fad did not last and they soon fell into obscurity. Only in recent years have they started to re-appear on the shelves of some select green grocers. Luckily for the forager, they are grown as garden flowers and have become locally naturalized where they may appear in waste places or along old rail road tracks etc.
It is a shame that they are not more commonly recognized, since they make and excellent replacement for other, heavy starches - something to consider if struggling with weight issues or diabetes. Jerusalem artichokes have the great virtue of storing their energy in the form of inulin, which is suitable for diabetics and does not add calories like other starchy vegetables. They are also very rich in iron, which is good news, especially for women during pregnancy and for vegetarians.
Jerusalem Artichokes are often compared to potatoes, however, it would seem to me that people who make such a comparison, have either never eaten potatoes, or else, have never eaten Jerusalem Artichokes. Other than the fact that they are both tubers they don't have much in common, IMHO. Jerusalem Artichokes bear much more similarities to water chestnuts. They can be eaten raw, dipped in dressing or added to salads, which preserves their crispy, nutty flavour. Or, they can be baked, steamed, stir fried or cooked. However, be careful not to overcook them, as they will turn to mush. Of course, you could mash them - but a somewhat watery, not very satisfying goo will result. Nor will they turn crispy like potatoes when stir fried, so, if you want to preserve their crunchiness it is best to slice them and throw them in at the last minute, or eat them raw.
CAUTION: People who are allergic to compositae plants may show sensitivity to Jerusalem Artichokes.
Baked Jerusalem Artichokes with Bread Crumbs, Thyme and Lemon
Recipe courtesy Jamie Oliver
Preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F.Gas 8. In a bowl mix together your creme fraiche, lemon juice, garlic, half the thyme and most of the Parmesan, and season well to taste. Thin out with around 6 to 8 tablespoons of water and throw in the sliced Jerusalem artichokes. Mix well and place everything in an ovenproof baking dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 35 minutes.
Mix the bread crumbs, the remaining thyme and some salt and pepper with a touch of olive oil. Remove the artichokes from the oven, discard the foil and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top. Then sprinkle the flavored bread crumbs over the Parmesan. Use up all the bread crumbs. Bake in the oven for about15 minutes until the bread crumbs are golden. If you’re in a pokey pokey kind of mood you can poke the artichokes about a bit so some of the bread crumbs fall underneath them. This makes it look more rustic instead of like a crumble.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Gingered Jerusalem Artichokes
courtesy of Leda Meredith
1 dozen medium sized Jerusalem Artichoke tubers
Blend ingredient well and toss marinade with Jerusalem artichokes, cover, and leave in refrigerator for at least one hour (or overnight--the flavors will continue to develop). Serve on small plates as a salad appetizer before a stir-fry or other oriental style meal. This recipe is also delicious made with burdock root.
For an interesting variation, and to include even more wild plants in the recipe, try using field garlic (Allium vineale) and wild ginger (Asarum spp.) instead of the domesticated garlic and ginger.
Jerusalem Artichoke Knishes
courtesy of Leda Meredith
Mix the flour with a pinch of salt. Stir in ¼ cup water and 1 ½ tsp. oil. Knead 150 times until smooth, adding flour if the dough is too sticky to work with (this is a small handful of dough, and the kneading goes quickly if you simply pass it from one hand to the other squeezing gently each time). Wrap dough in plastic wrap or a clean, damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat ¼ cup oil over low heat and add the onion. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often. Turn off heat, mix in mashed Jerusalem Artichokes, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Divide dough into six balls. Roll out each on a floured surface to a circle 6-7 inches in diameter. Brush each circle with some of the remaining oil. Place ½ to ¾ cup of the J-choke filling in the center of each circle. Fold up and pleat dough tightly around filling pressing each "pleat" to close (the filling should not be completely covered-a small circle of it should show on top).
Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Place the knishes on the sheet. Beat together the egg yolk and 1Tbsp. water, and brush the knishes with this mixture. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden.
For a milder flavor, you can use ½ J-chokes and ½ potatoes. You can also include other vegetables in the filling such as wild greens.
Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with Wild Seasonings Remoulade
courtesy of Leda Meredith
Serves 2-3 (recipe can be doubled)
Scrub the Jerusalem artichokes clean but do not peel. Chop into small pieces. Drop the pieces into a bowl of acidulated water to prevent darkening (1 Tbsp. vinegar in 1 quart water).
2. Make the mayonnaise base for the remoulade*: Whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, and salt. Whisk in the olive oil, starting with just a few drops at a time. As the mayonnaise starts to thicken you can add the oil a few spoonfuls at a time, but always whisk to incorporate each addition of oil before adding more. You should have a sauce that is just slightly thinner than commercial mayonnaise, much creamier, and a rich golden yellow.
*All ingredients need to be at room temperature for the mayo to emulsify well. If the egg is coming out of the refrigerator, place it whole in a bowl of hot tap water for one minute before cracking and separating out the yolk.
3. Mix in the melilot, garlic, horseradish, pickles, and capers. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste, and add more salt if desired.
4. Mix with the Jerusalem artichokes and serve cold.
Leftover remoulade can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.
That all the earth is fragile and that we must not take from her beyond what she can sustain. Overharvesting, particularly due to commercial collection of medicinal plants has brought many once plentiful plant species to the brink of extinction. As 'plant people', we should adopt an attitude of green guardianship for mother earth, who so plentifully provides for us.
Here are the rules that every forager should live and breathe by:
Get to know the plants that grow around you on a personal, first name basis: familiarize yourself with the herbs, bushes and trees in your neighborhood, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part and the plant members of your 'extended family'. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses. Try to understand it as part of a larger ecosystem. Which animals like it or dislike it? With which other plants does it form communities? Is it native or invasive? Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients? How does it 'fit' into its environment? What can you learn from its chemistry? Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem. Its a lengthy process, but vital if you want to truly get to know your plant friends and the habitat you share.
It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, lest they inadvertantly end up on your dinner plate, which could be most unpleasant or in the worst case scenario, even lethal. The importance of this point is completely obvious, but cannot be stressed enough. Some people hold the false and dangerous belief that what can be found in nature cannot harm them. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE. When you think you know a plant, think again and see what other, non-edible look-alikes might be fooling you. This is even more important when it comes to collecting mushrooms, as there are many poisonous mushrooms out there that have evolved to be masters at deceiving unsuspecting mushroom hunters. There are also many more potentially deadly mushrooms with edible look-alikes than there are deadly plants with edible look-alikes.
Familiarize yourself with the plants that are listed on the endangered species list for your area. Apart from being unethical, it is also highly illegal to pick endangered plant species. Instead of taking rare plants, consider sowing their seeds in the wild.
Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be especially conscienscious when it comes to harvesting roots and barks. Remember that often harvesting roots means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don't collect. Consider growing some in your garden rather than depleting natural stands. Collecting barks can also be fatal to a tree. If you must collect this part, try to collect it from smaller branches rather than the stem, from branches that have fallen, or from trees that are due to be cut for other purposes.
However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subject to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.). And don't collect from nature reserves either - these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!
Cast seeds of native species to the earth and to the winds once in a while - as a way of giving something back. Consider adopting a little patch that you are particularly fond of. When you are out and about, never leave any litter behind, but try to bring some back with you - I always carry two bags, one for foraging and one for litter picking. Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.
Much has been in the news of late, regarding new legislation coming into force that is supposedly going to make alternative medicine safer by the power of 'regulation'. Bureaucrats of all nations are united in their fight against chaos threatened by evil weeds; protecting YOU against the unfathomable and untested effects of natural herbs that may be DANGEROUS to your health - after all, what are some 5000 years of empirical experience gathered by herbalists and healers around the world compared to a couple of laboratory studies done by real SCIENTISTS?
That is the rap that is supposed to intimidate consumers and deter them from trying herbal remedies in favour of the PROPER medicine. Yes, they are actually trying to claim that man knows better than nature and that chemicals concocted in a lab are much better for you than anything nature might have in store. The thing that worries those of us who remain sceptical towards modern scientific advance is the fact that lab science is unleashing a flood of chemicals into the environment (and our bodies) whose actions and interactions are practically unknown since they have not been around for very long. Time and again it is only in the second or third generation that grave genetic impacts of chemicals or pharmaceuticals become apparent. Interactions between the myriad of chemicals we are exposed to in daily life is an extremely murky water to explore - how are we to know which chemicals are causing the adverse effects if we barely know what toxic brews we are exposed to in the first place e.g. environmental toxins, household chemicals, preservatives, colourants…you name it, the list is frightening. Not to mention actual side effects from most drugs, which can be exceedingly unpleasant and at times quite hazardous, even in over the counter medications.
If it wasn't so sad it would be laughable, but the problem is that these legislators, haven't got a clue about herbs or about naturopathic medicine yet, they are in a position to legislate our rights away and dictate by what means we should be treated or allowed to heal ourselves. In their view, you shouldn't meddle with your body at all. The assumption is, science knows best what is good for you while you, the consumer, are far too ignorant to make decisions regarding your own health, better leave it to the experts (or those posing as such). Thus, when legislation is passed and your rights are taken away it is in YOUR OWN BEST INTEREST, you understand.
I wouldn't mind so much if the legislation that is being passed really made things safer, but in fact it doesn't. What seems to really be at stake here is not safety, but profits. In recent years the supplement market and herbal remedy market have sky-rocketed. More and more people are becoming disillusioned by conventional medicine and are looking for alternatives. Herbs and supplements are easily available over the counter and have claimed quite a sizable (and growing) slice of the medicinal products pie. The pharmaceutical industry is still one of the most profitable industries and many pharmaceutical companies have started to produce their own herbal products and supplement lines. So, its not that they don't see the potential or deem herbs useless, - they just want to exploit that potential for their own economic benefit. Lobbyists know what strings to pull in order to get legislation passed in their favour. What is best for them and their shareholders are maximum profits - which can be achieved by patenting and by marketing neatly packaged pills and lab made concoctions that contain active ingredients (preferably synthetic) rather than whole herbs, which are unprofitable since they can't be patented, and difficult to control. The rest is a PR exercise - 'Its all in your own best interest, government is looking out for you.' The mhra and FDA and EU commission are chiming in a surprisingly harmonious chorus. Meanwhile access to simple herbs, which should be considered as our birthright, is gradually eroded, undermined and abolished - banned from the sanitized sphere of 'modern civilization'.
So what can we do? Unfortunately many end users are barely aware of what goes on behind the closed doors of regulation committees - although they like to portray themselves as a 'public forum', the truth is, unless you belong to some kind of professional organization they don't want to talk to you, much less listen to you. The world of legislation is dreary and dull - the wording of all those regulation papers is designed to put you to sleep or loose you within a few paragraphs of contorted officialdom and labyrinthine wordiness. Perhaps we would have a better chance if we made our point loud and clear, but considering the harsh realities and the ensuing sense of futility most people prefer to use the ostrich approach and stick their heads in the sand (at least while herbs are still available and the problem is not so acutely felt) rather than running danger of desiccating their brains through overexposure to the stale air of bureaucracy.
It is a sad situation, but if things continue to go the way they are going now we may well loose over the counter access to many great healing herbs. It may be that the only realistic option left will be to literally go 'back to the roots' and grow or gather your own herbs. Naturally this approach restricts us to the herbs that will grow in our ecosystem (unless we have a lot of space and a conservatory/greenhouse). Of course, many people don't have the time, knowledge or inclination to follow this DIY approach and it also precludes remedies that require some sort of processing: who, for example, can distil their own essential oils, (especially since owning a still in many places requires a license), or make their own homeopathic remedies? For the moment we can still get these age old remedies, but it is getting harder. It may be almost too late to get involved. Doors are closing as more and more pieces of legislation are being passed. But, we do all have a voice and we might as well use it to preserve our rights and try to issue a wake-up call to the bureaucrats who so 'caringly' want to be in charge of deciding what is best for us. One of my favourite organizations that has taken this struggle on its shoulders is cropwatch.org, based in the UK. Please check them out and get involved. http://www.cropwatch.org/newsletter2.htm
Other resources:European Medicines Agency
I have been attending this year's ITB again - the world's leading tourism fair held annually in Berlin, Germany. Again, I have to say that I am rather pleased with the growing conscience among travel providers to design their lodges, hotels or tours with social and environmental factors in mind. To be sure, there are still plenty of companies out there that seem to look at the world as a playground for the rich to be turned into golf courses and resorts, but a steadily growing segment of the tourism industry is beginning to take its social and environmental responsibility seriously and is searching for ways to reduce negative impacts while building sustainable relationships with the local communities within which they work.
To reward and encourage this type of thinking an award scheme known as 'TO DO' awards has been implemented some 11 years ago. Each year 3 winners are chosen from a range of contestants who have to demonstrate, both on paper and to the visiting examination board, that their project really lives up to its image and can fulfil the criteria set out by the contest. These criteria include:
It sounds as though such principles should be just common sense, but unfortunately commitment to social and environmental change is still the exception rather than the rule. I am very happy to announce that one of this year's winner is POSADA AMAZONAS, located in southern Peru. Sacred Earth has been promoting this wonderful project, which is run in conjunction with the local indigenous community at Infierno on the edge of Tambopata Reserve, since 1998, the year this lodge was built. You can find out more about Posada Amazonas as well as two other remarkable lodges operated by the same company in the TRAVEL FEATURE article below.
Two other projects from South Africa have also been awarded: Kuvona Cultural Tours, a regional tourism development project in a rural area of South Africa, which involves more or less the entire village and aims to bring tourists in contact with the real people of this area and create economic opportunities in a place where few previously existed.
A special award went to a certifying organization in South Africa - Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) which guides, supports and certifies touristic ventures that focus on fair trade and sustainable development in tourism. Their focus is on overcoming poverty while maintaining and strengthening the community's sense of culturalvalues and identities.
Find out more about the TO DO contest, this year's award's ceremony and winner's profilesTOP
Set up in 1998, Posada Amazonas pioneered the idea of collaborative tourism projects between indigenous people and ecotour operators. The idea behind this project is to create a great, professionally excellent ecotourism destination which creates real economic alternatives for local people. In an area that has long been dominated by logging and gold mining as the only economic perspectives tourism brought a real wind of change. Instead of selling their land or cutting down the trees for lack of alternatives, the lodge gave a new vision of hope, that it is possible to protect and preserve the forest and prosper in this modern world.
The project envisions that the Posada Amazonas was to be managed by the tour operator for 20 years during which local people would be trained in all aspects of the operation - not just cleaning and cooking. Today the whole community of Infierno benefits from the lodge either directly through employment and training or indirectly by providing services or selling crafts to tourists.
Posada Amazonas is an a beautiful, rustic yet comfortable ecolodge, built with traditional materials in the style of the region. Rooms are spacious and open towards the forest on one side so you can observe the wildlife right from your room. All rooms have a private bathroom en suite with running water (not hot) and showers. There is no electricity at the lodge except for recharging batteries etc. Light is provided by candles and petroleum lamps.The delicious meals are served buffet style in the spacious dining/meeting area. There is also an Amazon library with guide books etc. and a souvinir shop. Excursions are guided by bi-lingual naturalist guides and specialist bird guides are available on request (at an extra charge). Excursions around the lodge explore the nearby oxbow lake and its wildlife, a parrot clay lick, an ethnobotanical trail and a local farm. The nearby canopy tower gives access to viewing bird species at eye level - in the canopy. Night time excursions offer an unforgettable introduction to the nocturnal life of the rain forest. Posada Amazonas is an ideal lodge for short introductory visits to the lowland rainforest of Tambopata. Its proximity to the oxbow lake makes this place very accessible even to people who may have difficulty walking or if travelling with children (only 30 min walk away). It is located only 2 hours from Puerto Maldonado and thus even on a short visit the travelling time does not absorb most of your stay.
This is the latest addition to this set of Tambopata Lodges. It opened only last year and it built exactly like Posada Amazonas, except there are only 24 rooms, which keep the atmosphere a little bit more intimate. It is the ideal stop over lodge to break the journey to the TRC since it is further upstream. This means that visitors are fresh for the second leg of the trip towards the TRC, rather than tired and travel worn and can thus enjoy the increasingly abundant wildlife as they move further and further away from civilization and into the reserve. But Refugio Amazonas is also a great lodge to spend a few days exploring the surrounding primary forest. Like at Posada Amazonas, excursions focus on visiting the oxbow lake (2 hours walking through the jungle), the ethnobotanical trail, the parrot lick, and the local farm. It also has two special features - a 'children's trail' created by local children for children, and a visit to a Brazil nut camp. (Excursions offered depend on length of stay). Rooms are fitted to the same standards and provide the same comforts as those at Posada Amazonas. Rates are the same as Posada Amazonas.
This rustic and remote lodge deep within the Tambopata National Reserve was originally set up to provide a base camp for biologist researchers and tourists who wished to explore this pristine habitat in depth. It only offers 18 spaces in order to protect the wildlife and minimize any negative impacts on the environment and wildlife. The rooms here are more basic and a little smaller, but clean and comfortable. Bathrooms are shared and there is no hot water. Electricity is available for recharging batteries. The objective of this lodge was to protect the world's largest parrot clay lick, which is adjacent to the lodge (500m). Tambopata Research Station is for the true naturalists who don't mind sacrificing a little comfort for unparalled wildlife watching opportunities in an intimate setting. Dusky headed titi, squirrel, brown capuchin, howler and spider monkeys can be observed in the area and capybara, caiman and agouti can also frequently be seen. More difficult to catch a glimpse of, but also roaming the area, are herds of peccary, tapir and jaguar. Expert guides and scientists are at hand to convey their knowledge of this unique habitat. For birdwatchers the TRC is an excellent baseand while all guides have very good knowledge and understanding of all the different species of birds, animals and plants, specialist birdwatching guides are available only at request (and an extra charge).TOP
Winter lingers on and so do all the accumulated residues of winter sins, the result of heavy foods and not enough exercise. Are you feeling sluggish and tired and just not quite yourself? Nothing a little break at some lush and sunny tropical destination couldn't fix, but for those who perhaps don't have the time or the budget to travel luckily there are some relatively cheap and easy alternatives.
What the body really needs is a little stimulation for the metabolism, an inner cleansing that can clear out those residues, and one of the best potions to accomplish the task is Apple Cidre Vinegar.
Apple Cidre Vinegar is rich in minerals and especially potassium. It is singularly beneficial for flushing out uric acid crystals, the most prevalent metabolic waste substances with a tendency to accumulate in the joints. 2 tsp of ACV with 2tsp of honey dissolved in a glass of water every morning works wonders for the entire system.
Another great energizer, full of amino acids and immune system stimulating properties is Spirulina, a blue green algae. This comes as powder or in pill form, which is a little more expensive, but easier to take. The powder can be stirred into juice, or filled into empty capsules. This is a great tonic, especially for those who are in very stressful situations and need an overall boost.
Birch, Dandelion, Daisy, Nettles, Clivers are all excellent cleansing herbs that help the body to get rid of metabolic wastes, which if not eliminated regularly, in the long run can lead to chronic 'civilization' diseases.
Fresh pressed juices and lots of salads are the best ways of feeding the body a nutrient rich diet. As the early spring herbs are beginning to emerge it is certainly worth including some in those salads and juices - herbs such as Dandelion, Water cress or Chickweed make for an interesting and healthful variation to the usual diet.
The graceful birch tree has always held a special place in the people's hearts and minds, who perceived her as the youthful Goddess of love and light. Yet, her soft feminine and almost fragile appearance belies her hardy nature. Birch is a tree of northern latitudes and unforgiving climates that occurs throughout the northern hemisphere, from Siberia to Scandinavia, to Scotland and England as well as North America, the Himalayas, China, Japan and North Korea. Some varieties have traveled south to the temperate regions of the Mediterranean, and beyond - almost to the equator. In the southernmost regions of her range she prefers mountainous terrain. Humble and undemanding in her soil requirements, she will even grow make herself at home in sandy or stony ground, though her special affinity lies with water and her preferred habitat is found in boggy terrain. Birch is a pioneer she loves to settle where other trees fear to set root. Over time she 'cultivates' such lands, making it more arable and preparing it for other species to follow in her steps.
Her silvery white bark gives her a striking appearance. In youth, the papery bark peels off easily. It is thin, yet tough, and has in fact been used as paper in the past. As the tree grows older the bark begins to form a layer of cork that provides excellent insulation and protects her against the cold. The young twigs and branches are reddish brown and very elastic. Early in the year she is one of the first trees to put on her spring-gown of luminous green leaves. The triangular/heart-shaped leaves are serrated at the edges and covered by a sticky resinous substance with an aromatic, balsamic scent when they first emerge.
The flowers are known as catkins.. Both male and female flowers are present on the same tree, though they develop separately. The male flowers begin to develop in the summer, endure the winter and wait until the female flowers appear in spring. The wind acts as the pollinator and distributor of the tiny winged seeds, which are so light that they may be carried for several hundred miles.
Birch trees can reach a height of up to 30m. They reach maturity at about fifty years of age, but can live up to about one hundred years.
The people of northern Europe have long been very fond of this beautiful, slender tree with its white shining stem and graciously flowing branches. In their minds, it evoked the image of a beautiful young woman, which they identified with the Goddess Freya or Frigga. The Celts, who were equally fond of the Birch identified her with the virgin Goddess Bridha or Brigid. Etymologically the name Birch derives from the Sanskrit 'bhura', meaning 'shining tree' which no doubt is an allusion to the striking white bark and bright golden autumn cloak.
In Siberia Birch was regarded as the sacred world-tree, which served as the bridge between this world and the realm of spirits and Gods. At first, this may seem an odd choice, given the modest statue and strength of an average Birch tree, but may be partly explained by the fact that in those remote regions Birch frequently was the commonest, if not the only tree around. Another reason may have been its universal usefulness: Birch provides medicine and nourishment and its bark and wood can be fashioned into a large number of utensils, from birch bark containers, to coverings for the lodges, and even garments and shoes. The sap is rich in nutrients and the inner bark can, if need be, be ground into a flour to make cakes. This is considered famine food, a last resort if nothing else is available, but deer and most importantly, rein deer relish this inner bark, which is their most important winter food. The nomads on the other hand depend in turn on the rein deer, which stood at the center of their world and provided them with almost all the essential gifts that made life possible in these inhospitable regions. The reindeer was their spirit guide and sacred animal - and it also showed them where to find their most important sacrament, the Fly Agarics, a conspicuous toadstool, with a bright red cap and white dots atop. Fly Agarics form symbiotic relationships with Birches and often grow near them. Rein deer love this toadstool as much as Siberian shamans do. They are considered a sacred food of the Gods. On special occasions, when the Gods were honored in ecstatic celebrations, or when the shaman went on a spirit journey to ask for help and advice from the Gods, they partook of this sacred food. Thus, the Fly Agaric mushroom and the Birch tree became closely associated and both are shrouded in much mystery. Some legends portrait the Birch tree as a manifestation of the Goddess who offers her milk to the shaman as an elixir of life, while many scholars regard the sacred mushrooms as the Goddess' breast, and perhaps even the source of the fabled Soma, the sacred elixir of life and nectar of the Gods.
As one of the first trees to put on her spring-dress it is only natural that the Birch has always been associated with the life giving force and has thus featured prominently in all manner of fertility rites and magic. Birch signals the arrival of spring and traditionally farmers have observed her progress as an indicator to sowing their wheat.
In pre-Christian times Birch played an important role at Beltain celebrations, which were traditionally celebrated on the eve of the 1 May. Faint echoes of this pagan festival are surviving to this day as rural May-Day festivals throughout Europe. May-Day is the celebration of spring, of love, life and fertility. On this day the whole community, or sometimes just the young lads and lasses go out into the woods to fetch the 'Maytree', which oftentimes were Birches. Much fanfare accompanied the procession upon their return to the village. The tree was decorated with colorful ribbons, cookies and other goodies and fixed to a pole to tower high above the village. All day and all night the feast went on, with much eating, drinking, singing, dancing and merry making - much to the dismay of the church fathers. For centuries they tried to suppress these quaint old pagan celebrations, but in vain - the dance around the Maypole is still popular in many rural areas, though by now it has been sanctioned by the church.
The fertility and life-giving powers of the tree served as a 'village charm'. Accompanied by singing and dancing crowds it was carried from house to house to bestow blessings and protection to everything it touched. Later, the custom evolved into a form of flogging, also known as 'quickening'. It was thought that the mere touch of the birch twigs bestowed luck and fertility to those who came in contact with them. Thus the men of the village would take it upon themselves to bless the women folk with these fertilizing powers by hitting them with birch twigs. All female inhabitants, women, girls, cattle or farm animals, all received the same treatment. Eventually though, the custom changed and only children, mentally retarded people or delinquents remained the victims of the Birch rods, which was supposed to drive out the evil spirits that evidently possessed them. Of these, the practice to chastise the demons of disobedience that possess children with the help of Birch rods has persisted the longest.
Birch was thought to protect against all daemons and witches. In a milder form of exorcism than that described above, Birch twigs were often pinned above the doors of house and barn to avert their mischief and protect against or undo spells and curses, such as those that caused impotence, or those that caused the flow of milk to cease.
In magical folk medicine, Birch was associated with transfer magic used to alleviate the pain of rheumatism. Three days before the new moon the sufferer had to go and plead with the Birch tree to relieve him from his pains by solemnly reciting certain prayers and winding a wreath and tying knots into the bendy birch twigs. Thus the painful rheumatic knots were transferred to the Birch in exchange for some of the flexibility of her twigs.
Birch wood is light and rots easily, thus rendering it useless for construction work. However, the bark is extremely water resistant, a quality, which Native Americans have long put to use for waterproofing the roofs of their huts. They also fashioned special lightweight canoes as well as all manner of domestic items such as pots for collecting sap, or cribs to carry babies, shoes, lampshades and even toys from this versatile bark. In Europe, the twigs have mainly been used for thatching and wattle work and for making brooms. The brush ends of brooms, including those of witches' brooms, were also partly made with Birch twigs.
In early spring a sugary sap rises in the stem. To tap it, much the same technique is used as for tapping Maple syrup: a hole is drilled into the stem (1/2 cm wide and 3 cm deep), and a glass tube is inserted. One should not take more then 2-3 litres at a time and only 'milk' the tree once every two years. The hole must be sealed with special tree wax to protect the tree from bleeding to death. Ordinary candle wax is not sufficient, as it will just be pushed out again. This is best left to an experienced person as otherwise the tree may suffer great damage and may even 'bleed to death'.
Birch trees also yield a resinous substance called 'Birch tar', which can be extracted from the bark. It is very rich in tannins and is used for curing leather. It can also be used as an insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes and gnats and as a balsamic healing agent for all manner of skin sores including insect bites.
The inner bark is rich in sugar, oil and even contains Vitamin C. It provides welcome winter nourishment for deer and other rodents when everything else is covered in snow. Native Americans used to prepare a type of flour from it which could be used for baking. Birch is not often utilized as firewood, as it burns too quickly. However, this can be of distinct advantage if one needs to get a fire going fast, or under wet conditions. Even green branches will light and Birch bark makes excellent kindling. The smoke also acts strongly disinfectant and when burnt as incense can ward off infectious diseases. Native Americans often burnt thin pieces of birch bark in their healing tepees, where the sick were isolated, in order to purify the air and kill off stray germs.
|PARTS USED:||Leaves, inner bark, sap|
|Leaves:||flavonoids, saponins, volatile oil, tannin, resin|
|Bark:||betulin (birch camphor), glycoside, volatile oil, tannin, bitter substances, resin|
|Sap:||Sugar, organic acids, amino acids|
|ACTIONS:||diuretic, bitter, slightly astringent|
Birch leaves are very useful as a diuretic and are employed in the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and gouty conditions. They also have a reputation for dissolving stones. In Russia, an old folk remedy for rheumatism was to completely cover the afflicted person with Birch leaves, which resulted in a cleansing sweat and subsequent relief. The diuretic action also helps to relieve oedematous conditions and urine retention.
'It is a tree of Venus. The juice of the leaves, while they are young, or the distilled water of them, or the water that comes from the tree being bored with an auger, and distilled afterwards; any of these being drunk for some days together is available to the stone in the kidneys and bladder and is good also to wash sore mouths.'
A decoction of the bark can be used as a wash for impurities of the skin. Birch tar is often used as an ingredient of ointments for psoriasis and eczema.
The sap is a wholesome elixir that can be taken as a spring tonic. However, it has a tendency to ferment easily and thus is not suitable for long-term storage. It should be kept in a dark bottle and stored in the fridge. Adding some Cloves and a piece of Cinnamon also helps to prevent fermentation.
A compound tincture of Birch leaves can be used as a tonic hair rinse that promotes healthy growth of hair.
2 handfuls of Birch leaves
1 spoonful of Arnica flowers
1 spoonful of Nettle roots
2 spoonfuls of Nettle leaves
Cover with 70% alcohol, steep for 3 weeks, strain and bottle. Massage into the scalp and hair as a conditioner.
Or, make a strong infusion with the leaves and add 1 part apple cider vinegar.
Native Americans prepared a mushy paste by boiling and pounding the bark so it could be spread on inflammatory skin conditions, ulcers cuts and wounds. This brings down swellings and prevents infection and pus formation. They also extracted an oil by boiling wood and bark which is extremely effective in all kinds of fungal and parasitic skin conditions.
The North American species are different from the European white Birch. Their bark tends to be darker and has a distinct wintergreen flavour. In spring New Englanders enjoy a type of 'root beer' made from the twigs and sap, which apparently is very powerful. Euell Gibbons gives the following instructions:
"Measure 4 quarts of finely cut twigs of sweet birch into a bottom of a 5 gallon crock. In a large kettle, stir 1 gallon of honey into 4 gallons of birch sap and boil this mixture for 10 minutes, then pour over the chopped twigs. When cool, strain to remove the now expended twigs and return the liquid to the crock. Spread 1 cake of soft yeast on a slice of toasted rye bread and float this on top of the beer. Cover with a cloth and let it ferment until the cloudiness just starts to settle. This will usually take about a week, but it depends somewhat on the temperature. Bottle the beer and cap tightly. Store in a dark place, and serve it ice cold before meals after the weather gets hot." He also says don't' have more than a couple of glasses of this beer as it has a 'kick like a mule'.
By Rainforest Portal, a project of Ecological Internet, Inc.
March 22, 2006
TAKE ACTIONProject Will Devastate South America's Rainforests, Water & Climate http://www.rainforestportal.org/alerts/send.asp?id=amazon_pipeline
Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina plan to build a massive natural gas pipeline of up to 9,000 km in length from Venezuela to Argentina through Brazil's Amazon rainforest. Construction of the pipeline would be the most ambitious physical infrastructure initiative in South America's history, costing up to $25 billion and taking up to seven years to build. The pipeline would pierce the heart of the Amazon and ensure its destruction as a large, operable whole. Large areas of pristine rainforests will be destroyed during construction, and new roads will open the rest for colonization by ranchers and loggers. The multitude of waterways traversing the Amazon will be polluted during construction and inevitable pipeline leaks. The pipeline will contribute to global warming through deforestation and oil production to access the gas. The similar existing Camisea gas pipeline through rainforests in Peru - which was touted as a model of sustainable development, environmental protection and respect for indigenous peoples - offers a cautionary tale of the damage caused by gas pipelines during construction and their operation. In three years of operation is has already experienced five major spills, severely damaging the environment and local communities. The proposed pipeline is a major threat to the existence of the Amazon rainforest, as well as regional and global ecological sustainability. The leaders of Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina must be called upon to scrap plans for its construction. Take action now:
CURITIBA, Brazil, March 19, 2006 (ENS) - The realization that conservation of indigenous sacred places also conserves Earth's embattled biological diversity is the inspiration for a new international initiative to safeguard ancient sacred natural sites.
The new project, backed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and indigenous peoples' groups such as the Foundation created by Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu, has secured preliminary funding from a multi-billion dollar development fund, the Global Environment Facility.
Menchu said, "It may seem accidental, but is not accidental, that where indigenous peoples live is where the greatest biological diversity, the diversity of nature, exists too. The values on which indigenous peoples have built our complex systems are founded in the ethical, spiritual and sacred nature that links our peoples with the whole work of creation."
"This is why we demand the formal recognition of our conservation efforts, of our protected territories, of our sacred places, of the ethical values that support our lifestyles," she said.Read the full article: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2006/2006-03-19-01.asp
6 January 2005 Source: The Star (Malaysia)
Shampoos, moisturising creams and other products based on rain forest plants used by indigenous people in Polynesia are helping to conserve tropical forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In this article, Michele Lian describes how botanist Paul Alan Cox spent 30 years researching these and other products, with the aim of bringing them to global markets and ensuring that profits are shared with their originators.
Since moving to Western Samoa in 1973, Cox has been studying the islanders' knowledge and use of the plants around them. He hopes that as well as yielding cosmetic products his research will also identify potential cures for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
One product derived from a Samoan tree is showing promise as an HIV/AIDS drug. Thanks to a royalty agreement between scientist and the government of Samoa, if the drug is successful, the people of Samoa will get half of the profits from its sale (see Samoa to profit from indigenous knowledge deal).scidev
Firms which make herbal medicines must now get their products approved by an independent agency after the introduction of a new law. The EU directive, designed to ensure that people who buy the products will have a guarantee of their quality and safety, came into effect on Sunday. Until now, the government says, consumers have not known which herbal remedies are of an acceptable standard. Companies will now have to provide evidence of a new product's safety. Before new remedies can be registered and sold, information about how they should be used must also be approved. The government adds that before the directive was introduced, reputable companies following high standards were left at a commercial disadvantage while consumers were potentially at risk from unsafe products.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4389616.stm
One in six Zambians is thought to have HIV/Aids Zambia has begun trials of three herbal medicines to see if they can be used to treat HIV/Aids, it says. Twenty-five people with HIV will take part in the three-month trial, which the health minister said conforms to World Health Organization guidelines. The United Nations estimates that one in six Zambians has HIV/Aids. An Aids charity spokesperson was sceptical about the trials, saying the only known effective treatment was anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. At a press conference in the Zambian capital Lusaka, Health Minister Sylvia Masebo said: "It is a momentous occasion for Zambia which establishes a partnership between conventional medicine and traditional medicine.&quo; Dr Patrick Chikusu, principal investigator of clinical trials of traditional herbal remedies, said 14 natural remedies had been narrowed down to three to be submitted to the final stage of clinical trials.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4358458.stm
BRADENTON, FL – HP Ingredients, the premier supplier of Tongkat ali raw material known as LJ100, has announced that Tongkat ali will be the subject of the second episode of the new "Medicine Hunter" television series, developed and hosted by ethnobotanist, author and lecturer Chris Kilham and his media partner Mitchell Stuart of HQ Productions. The supplier, along with The Malaysian Herbal Corporation, will also be underwriting Kilham’s travel to Malaysia.
Kilham and Stuart have been signed by The Healthy Living Channel, part of The Turner Media Group, to produce a series about botanical medicines from around the world that have become popular dietary supplements in the United States. The "Medicine Hunter" series will take viewers on exotic journeys and meetings with local medicine men/shamans, research facilities and other locations where the herbal medicine is used. This rich adventure is led by Kilham, who is known worldwide as The Medicine Hunter, and promises to be a rewarding and enriching viewing experience.http://www.npicenter.com/
November 29, 2005
Nine national organizations working together as the Traditional Medicines (TM) Congress  have released the first public draft ofA Proposed Regulatory Model for Traditional Medicines: Guiding Assumptions and Key Components. This comprehensive document presents ideas for a new model for the regulation of traditional medicines in the United States, and will now be subject to an open review process by interested individuals and organizations.
The American Herbalists Guild joined with 8 other organizations in the spring of 2004 to exchange ideas about the future of traditional medicines in the U.S. The result of these discussions was the formation of the TM Congress. In seeking to emphasize both the value of traditional medicines and the responsibilities that are associated with their use, it was agreed that:
The goal of the Traditional Medicines Congress is to benefit public health by ensuring access to traditional medicines in a manner that provides a reasonable expectation of public safety.
"We are extremely pleased to be part of this group of national organizations working cooperatively for the first time to address one of the most critical issues facing our profession" said Aviva Romm, President of the American Herbalists Guild. "This is an important first step in protecting access to traditional medicines and improving people's health and well being."
According to Roy Upton, Vice President of the American Herbalists Guild and Executive Director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, "The current regulation of herbs as 'dietary supplements' is fine for accessing them for general health purposes, in healthy individuals. This must be protected at all costs. However, it completely neglects the legitimate use of botanicals for therapeutic purposes, which is one of the greatest values of herbs in health care. Also, many botanicals have been prohibited from use due to politics, improper use as a result of inappropriate marketing, or inaccurate reports of potential toxicity. This new proposal is designed to protect continued access to herbal medicines and promote their safe and responsible use."
Anyone with an interest in traditional medicines is now invited to review the draft document that the TM Congress has developed. A Proposed Regulatory Model for Traditional Medicines is posted online at:http://www.ahpa.org/05_1129_TMCongress_ProposedModel.pdf
Comments can be emailed to TMCongressFeedback@pobox.com. The deadline for comments is March 31, 2006.
-Claire Hope Cummings Agricultural biotechnology—the "new biology" — is pushing a little-publicized agenda that brings unprecedented new risks to ecological stability and human security. http://www.worldwatch.org/pubs/mag/2005/181 (Download this Article)
With half the world’s 1.2 billion poor depending for their livelihoods on harvesting wild natural resources, ranging from cocoa and rubber to oils and spices, in a trade valued at $4.7 billion annually, the United Nations environmental agency today released a blueprint for a fair deal to lift them out of poverty.
A key recommendation of the report by the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), is that aid should be targeted at developing the business skills of rural communities to help them avoid exploitation by entrepreneurs and other middle men in the trade of non-timber forest products (NTFP).
"There is no doubt that if provided with the right kind of support, trading forest products can genuinely provide a route out of poverty," (UNEP-WCMC) project coordinator Elaine Marshall said of the report: Commercialization of non-timber forest products: factors influencing success (CEPFOR).
The study identifies how commercial development NTFPs can enable rural communities to escape poverty without irreversibly damaging the environment. It examines 19 different case studies in Mexico and Bolivia, involving products ranging from wild mushrooms and palm fibres to incense and the agave-based traditional beverage, Mezcal, looking at why some commercialization initiatives succeed while others do not.
In many areas these products provide the only source of income, and communities are dependent on them for survival.
Entrepreneurs often provide a link between producers and the market place and play a critical role in determining whether trade is fair to producers or not. CEPFOR found that they play a number of positive roles, including identifying markets, providing business contacts, advancing capital and providing training to producers.
But the inequitable distribution of power along the market chain was widely seen by producers as a major factor limiting commercialization success, with relatively few entrepreneurs resulting in lack of competition. Many communities are entirely dependent on one or a few entrepreneurs for bringing their products to market, which can result in exploitation and unfair trade.
Hence the need to develop the business skills of these communities as well as to support socially-minded entrepreneurs and create producer organizations providing opportunities to share information and contacts. This can greatly strengthen the ability to negotiate favourable deals and command a higher price for products.
CEPFOR also calls for training and education to prevent the widespread scourge of over-harvesting.Full story
The world's first mushroom cosmetic line has been developed in Koltsovo Scientific Center. It took specialists of the Research and Production Company 'Trinity' several years of research to develop the mushroom line of cosmetics.
By stepping into the mushroom kingdom scientists found a full spectrum of biologically active substances that our skin needs: proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, minerals, organic acids, and a rich collection of vitamins, biotin and folic acid.
As a result, the company developed a line of creams with fly-agarics extract called 'Mushroom collection,' which has no analogy in the world.
For full story, please see: http://www.engl.fis.ru/news/?nid=14251
Recent field surveys of natural stands of sandalwood in Vanuatu have uncovered a range of varieties that possess exceptional oil qualities. The main survey was carried out in 2004 by local and Australian experts on six islands in Vanuatu – Malakula, Santo, Moso, Erromango, Tanna and Aniwa – in order to quantify morphological and genetic variation.
The survey was also intended to domesticate the good quality trees for expanding plantings to meet international standards for sandalwood oil. This new development opens the way for local communities to make a greater contribution to the sandalwood industry through planting superior varieties. The sandalwood oil industry also stands to benefit through future access to a consistent supply of quality oil which is required for developing premium branded products.
Individual sandalwood trees, known scientifically as Sandalum austrocaledonicum, were assessed and wood core samples collected from nine populations on the six islands. A total of 28 percent of trees sampled in the two northen islands produced a natora oil meeting the international standard because they have as content more than 41 percent of a-santalol and more than 16 percent of b-santalol. The selected trees from the remaining southern populations had a mean of 31 percent of a- and b-santalol.
The survey now places Vanuatu in second position behind the indian sandalwood, Sandalum albam in the world market. The Sandalum austrocaledonicum is mainly found in Vanuatu and Mare island in New Caledonia compared to Sandalum yasi in Fiji and Tonga with poor quality oil. Last week, there was a wokshop organized by the department of forestry and James Cook University (Cairns, Australia) in Port Vila, to educate and encourage farmers to produce the high quality sandalwood oil.
For full story, please see:Vanuatu Sandalwood
Illegal logging is destroying large areas of forest in Papua New Guinea despite a government crackdown and policies that regulate the practice, global environmental group Forest Trends said in a report on Tuesday.
The group said illegal felling of timber is feeding an appetite for wood in the West and Asia at the expense of local people whose cultures and livelihoods are closely linked to forests. Environmentalists have long said widespread industrial logging in Papua New Guinea, which lies to the north of Australia, is stripping the region of its rainforests, among the richest tropical forests in the world.
Some environmentalists estimate more than 250,000 ha (625,000 acres) of virgin forest are destroyed each year in Papua New Guinea, most of which is still covered by rainforests.
Forest Trends said its surveys conducted over a five-year-period showed most commercial forestry operations in Papua New Guinea were illegal and ecologically unsustainable. It said 14 logging projects covering 3.17 million hectares were operating unlawfully in the region.
Forests are home to half the species living on land and a key source of food, building materials and medicines for people. A net 7.3 million hectares of forest -- the size of Panama or Sierra Leone -- was lost each year from 2000-2005, according to United Nations data.
For full story, please see: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SP159206.htmTOP