Fire Cider for the Cold and Flu Season

Fire Cider for the Cold and Flu Season

Fire Cider Vinegar November 2021

Fire Cider Vinegar November 2021

It’s cold and flu season and lots of people swear by fire cider vinegar for getting themselves and their families and friends through the sniffly time.

You can buy fire cider vinegar at the farmers market or some stores, but if you are so inclined, you can make your won and customize it your taste or what you have available (though I think with its heat flavor isn’t as much of a consideration). Making your own is also much cheaper if costs are a consideration. and ingredients can be purchased with SNAP benefits!

Fire cider (often with “vinegar” left off the name) is an old way of infusing cold-and-flu-bug-busting herbs and making them palatable and easy to take. It was named over Fire Cider Vinegar over 30 years ago by Rosemary Gladstar, who began sharing her version of the recipe; it now has almost as many variation as people who make it.

You can take fire cider vinegar to help your immune system fight off what’s around, at the start of cold or flu symptoms (and sometimes it seems to stop them, though no guarantees), or it seems to lessen the severity of the cold or flu, though again no promises.

 How to take Fire Cider Vinegar (FCV): Most people don’t take it straight, but diluted in some way. Take a tablespoon or two (or a glug or two from the bottle is it in) and put it in a glass of water, juice, or a cup of tea–you decide how much it needs to be diluted. You can take it every couple of hours, or, when you are feeling better, a 2 or 3 times a day.

You can also use FCV in a mixed drink, or use it in salad dressing–for some or all of the vinegar portion.

Below are two recipes, one from my friend Charles Garcia (, a wonderful Hispanic herbalist, and one from me with interesting choices and no particular measurements.

Fire Cider Recipe from Charles Garcia

Ingredients (makes about 2 quarts):
2 glass quart jars
1 heaping teaspoon of black pepper for each jar
1 lemon in 4 slices (2 for each jar)
3 small slices of apple
1/2 diced red onions
16 garlic cloves (8 for each jar)
Approximately 2 ounces sliced fresh ginger
Approximately 2 1/4 ounces horse radish in 1 inch chunks
1 Anaheim or Serrano pepper sliced into 1/4 inch slices,
separate them into equal amounts for each jar
20 Allspice seeds split evenly for each jar
2 heaping Tablespoons of honey for each jar

Pack everything tightly in each jar. Fill with apple cider vinegar. Allow bubbles to escape and add more vinegar.

Seal and shake. Keep in fridge. Shake every day. After three weeks remove all solid material and keep the liquid in the jars and use as needed.

Fire Cider Vinegar ingredients, waiting for vinegar

Fire Cider Vinegar ingredients, waiting for vinegar

A Recipe for Fire Cider Vinegar by Iris Weaver

Take some garlic, onions, hot peppers, horseradish or garlic mustard root, any herbs that are anti-microbial or anti-inflammatory, etc., that are in your garden or cupboard, whatever else appeals to you. Use whatever amounts you like or have on hand. Warning: go easy with the horse radish; from experience too much makes the fire cider tooo firey!

Chop the herbs, put in a jar, top with ACV (organic and local if possible) and let sit at least 6 weeks. When you strain it out, add local raw honey if you like (some people add honey in with the vinegar while it is steeping). To me this is easy–no fussy measuring or worrying about having just the “right” herbs! Oh, and if you have someone who can’t do alliums, just eliminate the garlic and onions.

The usual herbs that seem to be the base of any fire cider recipe are garlic, horseradish, ginger, and hot peppers. But, again, use what you’ve got.

Dose: 1 to 3 teaspoons in water, juice, tea, several times a day. This is also great added to soups, stir-fries, and salad dressings (but be careful how much you use–hot, hot, hot!).

Suggested herbs and other ingredients (fresh or dried; organic if possible):

  • Hot peppers/chilis
  • Ginger
  • Horseradish, or wasabi radish, or garlic mustard roots
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Astragalus root
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Balm
  • Bee Balm
  • Peppermint/Spearmint
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Turmeric
  • Organic, raw Apple Cider Vinegar

Decide whether you want to make a quart, a half-gallon, or a gallon, and have appropriately sized jars, or use what you have!

Use organic citrus and ginger, and herbs if you buy them. Chop up your fresh herbs, onions, garlic, horse radish, etc. and slice your citrus if using (don’t worry about peeling it).

Fill your jar between 1/4 to 3/4 full with chopped ingredients, and then fill with apple cider vinegar to bottom of where lid sits. You can also add a bit of honey, you decide how much, in place of the vinegar and let it all infuse together. Put on lid and let infuse.

Make note of what herbs and ingredients you used and the date, Helpful for labeling and if anyone wants to know what’s in there.

Let it sit for 6 weeks or longer and then strain out the solids and bottle and use. Enjoy!

4 Or So Plants to Forage in July


Blackberries–ripe, unripe, and very unripe

Summer feels like the best time to forage, because there is so much to find and use. The other seasons do have their own offerings and delights, but summer feels like the jackpot. It reminds me of the unstinting abundance that Nature gives without our asking.

I think of July and August as “high summer”, when all the summer heat and plants and insects and animals are out in full force. June is more late spring and early summer, and September is late summer and early fall. So as June drifts into July and full summer comes upon us, I am planning what I will harvest for my cook pot or plate, and for medicine, and for drying for wreaths and other projects.

Safety First

A reminder: Always be sure of your plant and what its edibility or uses are! Just because it is “natural” doesn’t mean that it can be used in unlimited quantities in your body, or that it can’t make you sick, or worse.

When you are foraging or wild-crafting, always remember that you need to be sure of what plants you are harvesting, and what the proper parts to harvest are. For instance, some roots that are fine for eating (burdock, dandelion) are not yet ready to harvest for medicine; for that you’ll have to wait until fall. Daylily, which has shoots that are edible when they first come up in the spring, instead offers buds and flowers. And no part of pokeberry, with edible shoots in spring, is edible now. A few plants in the carrot family can be confused with Queen Anne’s lace or other members of the family and are deadly poisonous or can cause nasty rashes. My motto is “when in doubt, don’t.” Please be sure to use your plant and field guides!

Please note that plant geek friends of mine have said the smart phone apps for identifying plants are very unreliable, even useless. I would not trust my safety to a phone app. Use tried-and-true guides like Newcomb’s and Peterson’s and check with knowledgeable friends.

4 Or So Plants to Forage

So let’s talk about some of the wonderful plants that are at their peak of pickability, or close to it, at this time.

Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)

There are a number of species of amaranth; 2 species at least are used for food. At least one, Amaranthus hybridus, is also used medicinally.

One species, I’m not sure which one, is also nick-named Red-legs, as the lowest part of the stem and the roots are reddish. Ii is one distinguishing characteristic of the plant, and helps me recognize it plant when I am weeding the seedlings in my garden, and later when the plant is well-grown.

The leaves of amaranth are eaten: the young leaves can be used raw in salads, or put in soups, etc. I also use the older, bigger leaves in cooked dishes. July is the perfect time for foraging amaranth.

I also like to dry the leaves to use for soups and stews in the winter. For this purpose I am not concerned if I use older, tougher leaves, as the drying and cooking will take care of that. I may also save the stems to use in making soup stock, where I can use all sorts of odds and ends that would otherwise just get tossed. I put the leaves in paper bags, sometimes amaranth, sometimes in with other greens that I have dried for the winter.

Berries and Berry Leaves–Raspberries and Blackberries, leaves of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries (Rubus spp. [raspberries, blackberries] , Fragraria spp. [strawberries])

Now is the time when the wild raspberries are coming into their own, both the black-cap, which some people mistakenly call blackberries, and the red raspberries. There are several species growing wild; all are edible, though some are bigger or smaller or tastier than others. Pick them and eat them out-of-hand, or take them home for desserts, jams, pies, smoothies, infused vinegars, or to freeze for use in the winter. (To freeze berries of any sort, lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and stick them in the freezer until frozen. Then you can slide them into jars or plastic bags that will last for months in the freezer.)


Blackberries in various stages of ripeness.

Toward the end of the month blackberries will be starting to color up nicely and soon be ready to eat. As with raspberries, there are a number of species around, and the same variations in taste and size occur with blackberries, except even more so. Some blackberries are big and juicy and sweet, not too seedy; others are small and very seedy, not that pleasant to eat. Blackberries that ripen in the shade also tend not to sweeten up much, so eating them is a bit more of a sweet taste gamble than raspberries.

The leaves of any species of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries can be collected throughout the season and dried for tea. All of them make a pleasant tea, either on their own or mixed with other herbs.

One of the constituents in raspberry leaves is called fragarin, and I have noticed that when I have a jar of raspberry leaves that I harvested and dried myself, when I open the jar there is a wonderful fragrance that rises from the leaves.

Raspberry leaves are a traditional herb for pregnant women, but can also be a pleasant tea for anyone.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva)

orange daylilies

The ubiquitous orange daylily.

Daylilies come to us from Asia, but have managed to naturalize themselves around human habitation–sometimes you will swathes of day lilies where an old house stood, or that somebody planted in a roadside garden and then left.

The most common daylilies we see, the orange ones that grow everywhere and a couple of the yellow ones, are easy to harvest and so abundant that it is just about impossible to eradicate them. They are very vigorous growers, as many gardeners will attest.

At this time of year, the easiest part to harvest is the flower–in bud, full bloom, and after it has started to wither. Use the buds in stir-fries or chopped into salads. Use the flowers (each one only lasts a day, hence the name “daylily”) to stuff with hummus or a cheese dip, or chopped into salads or to garnish a dish.

yellow daylilies

Yellow daylilies, not nearly as commonly seen as the orange ones.

My favorite time to gather the flowers, though, is after they have finished blooming and are wilting, drying right on the stem, though I have also dried buds and fresh flowers. The wilted flowers are perfect for harvesting to dry for use in the winter. I take them and place them in an open basket or on a screen in a single layer and let them dry completely, then store them in a jar or paper bag to use in winter soups, stews, and other dishes.

Most daylily flowers can be eaten. However, for drying purposes, the double-flowered varieties (with multiple sets of petals) can be too moist, especially at the stem end, and can mold instead of dry. The single-flowered varieties are much easier to deal with.

To use the dried flowers, snip or break off the tough stem end, then cut up or break up the flower and put it in soups, stews, etc. If using in a stir-fry, soak the pieces in hot water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate.

Lamb’s Quarters or Goosefoot (Chenopodium alba)

goosefoot clump

A patch of goosefoot/lamb’s quarters growing in the city.

Lamb’s quarters or goosefoot is growing vigorously at this time of year. The leaves are the part that are eaten, and if you find a large plant you will have a goodly amount of leaves for salads or cooking.

The white powder that is present on the small new leaves and the part of the leaves closest to the stem is not a disease, but a signature of the plant and can be ignored for purposes of eating. It does help in identifying the plant, however.

The mild-tasting leaves can be used raw in salads or used in cooked dishes in the same way spinach is used, such as quiche and spinach pie. I also like to use lamb’s quarters leaves in my soups and stews and stir-fries. They have a high water content and thus cook down a lot, so if you are making a recipe which calls for a particular amount make sure you have harvested enough to account for the shrinkage.

The young leaves are best, but I also use the large, mature leaves, though they can be somewhat tougher.

Lamb’s quarters are a bioaccumulator, meaning they can accumulate toxins from the soil. You need to be careful of the area where you are harvesting them so that you are not ingesting lead or other heavy metals or other toxins. Since they also take up nitrogen, be aware of places where fertilizers have been used, as excess nitrogen can cause problems in the body.

This is another plant I like to dry for the winter. I either bunch several stems together and hang them to dry, or strip off the leaves and dry them in my dehydrator. I then store the leaves in a paper bag for later use. When I use them, I crumble the leaves into whatever dish (usually some sort of soup) I am making and they quickly rehydrate and cook up.

I hope you get out there and find these or other wonderful plants for your kitchen or medicine cabinet. What plants have you foraged? What have you done with them? Let me know in the comments section below.

Happy foraging!


Early Spring Musings

evening primrose rosette

Evening primrose rosette.

At the end of this oddly warm winter we are experiencing yo-yo days and nights of wildly fluctuating temperatures, sometimes in the range of 30 degrees in a 24-hour span. It’s great for the maple sugaring folks, but I wonder how the vast community of plants in general is doing.

Since we didn’t have much snow cover this winter I’ve been able to see the wild plants and weeds of lawns and fields that normally are buried in snow. They seem to have withstood the weather just fine, as many of them evolved, I think, to be impervious to a wide range of conditions.

A recent blog post from fellow herbalist Abby Artemisia made me think about what was underfoot as I walk to and from the train, and nose around the small greenhouse that is part of my housing development. The post, available here, mentions two of the plants already showing themselves in the Asheville, NC, area—chickweed and ox-eye daisy (the daisy is just putting out its basal leaf rosette at this point), then gives simple directions for making an easy infused herbal vinegar that can be made with any herb/s or wild plant/s of your choice. (A clarifying note: I generally use equal amounts of vinegar and fresh plant material, and less dry plant matter than vinegar with dry herbs.)

I have been seeing dandelion leaves and an occasional flower, mullein leave rosettes, garlic mustard, evening primrose basal rosettes, and many other plants popping up. With the high winds that have been sweeping through in recent weeks, there are large numbers of fallen twigs and branches of white pine, the needles of which make a great infused vinegar. Though chickweed is a cool-weather plant that you can even sometimes find outdoor in January, the only place I have seen it recently is the greenhouse. I also have a mullein plant that settled itself in the pot where my passionflower lives.

Even though it’s not yet officially spring, there are plenty of robust, hardy plants coming up that are perfect candidates for the vinegar jar, salad bowl, or soup pot.

What’s in your yard right now? Let me know in the comments section below.

And if you would like help learning to identify the plants in your yard or other areas, come take a plant walk with me! My walks start again in April, and continue through October. Check my class schedule for dates and locations.

Abundant Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichoke tubers

Jerusalem artichoke tubers, ready to be cut up and cooked.

I’ve just finished harvesting the first bunch of Jerusalem artichoke tubers from where they have taken over one end of my garden. There are many more to come, but I’ll wait a couple of weeks until it’s colder and I’ve figured out what to do with this batch. I’ll leave some in the ground on purpose (some always stay no matter how hard I try to get them all) so that early next spring I’ll be able to again harvest the nicely preserved tubers.

The j arties, as I refer to them, grew in a pile of unspread compost, and as happens when they are well-fed and happy, the plants grew to be 6 to 8 feet tall! They are quite an aggressive plant, able to grow many feet under the snow between fall and the next spring. They have several tubers per plant, not as many as you might like at first, so you understand why they are not cheap, but after a while, you find you have far more than you expected and begin to wonder what you will do with them all, especially as friends to whom you offer them look at them and say, “What are those? What do I do with them?”

You may be wondering just what the heck are Jerusalem artichokes. It took me a long time to finally find the tuber-bearing perennial sunflower that I had read about. Then I discovered it growing in my yard, the gift of a passing bird!

What are Jerusalem artichokes?

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a perennial sunflower (meaning it comes back year after year) that is probably originally native to the midwestern part of North America, and is found throughout the East and Midwest of this continent. It can grow anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet or so. A stand of them can be an impressive sight! They have pretty, daisy-like yellow flowers, which don’t look like the garden sunflower blooms we would expect, and bloom late in the season, usually not until September.

The edible part is the tuber, which is the food storage portion of the plant, allowing it to winter over with nice nutrient reserves for the spring. Tubers can vary in size and shape, from round to knobby to long and slim. They also vary in color, sometimes depending on the variety, and sometimes they just vary. Colors range from beige to reddish to purplish on the outside, but all are creamy-white inside, as far as I know. The color doesn’t affect the taste.

Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunchokes, and are available at some upscale markets and farmer’s markets. Sometimes you can find a stand growing wild, and harvest some for yourself.

When and how to harvest

The best time to harvest Jerusalem artichokes is mid-to-late fall, when the tubers have had a chance to develop to a good size (anywhere from 1 inch to 5 to 6 inches or so). After that you can harvest them as long as you can dig in the ground. In the spring, you can harvest them as well, but at some point they will become soft and spongy, with a sponginess in the center of the tuber, and that is the signal that they are done for the season. Later on if you dig around the j arties, you may find empty balloon-like sacs, which are the spent tubers.

The best way to harvest the tubers is to use a garden fork. I have tried a trowel (okay, so I’m too lazy to get a shovel) and a shovel, and neither of them really gets at the tubers that are randomly located under the surface of the soil, sometimes down 6 inches or more. With a garden fork you can automatically sift through the dirt and find those solid tubers (along with the requisite New England rocks).

After harvesting, you may want to soak the tubers for a little while to loosen the dirt, before scrubbing with a vegetable brush to get off the surface dirt and any dirt embedded in crevices.

Storing and preserving Jerusalem artichokes

Store in the refrigerator or on the counter for a few days to a couple of weeks. My experience is that the tubers start to dry up and get soft fairly quickly, so you want to use them up within a short period of time.

If you want to preserve your j artie harvest, dehydration is the way to go, in my opinion. Slice the tubers very thinly, about 1/8” thick and place in a dehydrator or low oven (150 degrees F. with the door left slightly open) until they are leathery or crispy. You can store the slices in a paper bag or glass jar until you’re ready to use them.

To use your dehydrated j arties, you can presoak them and add to soups, stews, and stir-fries, or whatever else you come up with. You can also grind them in a coffee grinder to make a flour that you can add to other flour for baking.

You can also dice or slice them, boil for a few minutes, and then put them in the freezer until you need them.

Cooking Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin, a soluble starch that doesn’t affect the blood sugar system, so they can be eaten by diabetics. However, some people have problems digesting inulin, and therefore the tubers should be cooked before eating.

You can cook fresh Jerusalem artichokes alone, boiled or baked, and serve them with butter and salt. They are very mild-flavored, which can be a boon or disappointing, depending on your taste. They are great mixed in with potatoes and other root veggies, either as a mash or a diced bake. They go well in soups, stews, and stir-fries as well.

Here is a recipe for a delicious way to eat the fresh tubers. (I found the directions for this on-line, but I don’t remember where.)

Coconutty Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

Coconut oil, preferably organic
Jerusalem artichoke tubers, cleaned and thinly sliced
Sea salt

Heat several tablespoons of the coconut oil in a pan.

Add a single layer of the thinly sliced (about 1/8”) Jerusalem artichoke tubers. Let cook for a few minutes on one side, then use a fork to turn them over.

When they are slightly browned and looking a bit crispy (though they don’t have to be), take them out and place on paper towels to absorb the extra oil.

Immediately sprinkle with sea salt, and eat while still warm. They are delicious and hard to stop eating. Enjoy!

How do you like to eat your J arties? What have you done with them? Let me know in the comments section.


6 Plants to Start the Spring Foraging Season

Spring and sunlight and warmth, oh my! Here in the Northeast after an extremely long, cold, and snowy winter, the plants, animals and birds, and humans are stretching toward the warmth of the sun and sighing with relief. My favorite spring plants are popping up, though later than usual, and I am thinking about what I will put on my plate, in my soup pot, and into my handcrafted herbal medicines.

Here are 6 plants that are coming up and that are ready to be used now. Some have parts that must be harvested now before they get too woody/stringy/invested in plant growth, others will be able to be used for a while. All are used for both food and medicine, except for garlic mustard, which as far as I know has no medicinal uses.

Note: Please be very sure you know what plant you are picking before you use it so that you don’t run the risk of poisoning or illness. A couple of good plant i.d. books and sites are listed at the end of this article. If you’re uncertain and want to learn more, up close and personal with the plants, I lead foraging walks throughout the growing season. Click here for my calendar.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion leaves

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the irregularly-toothed leaves with wide teeth/lobes.

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the more finely cut, narrower teeth/lobes.

Dandelion leaves in spring. Note the more finely cut, narrower teeth/lobes. Dandelion leaves are very variable.

More young dandelion leaves. Note that there are fewer teeth/lobes.

More young dandelion leaves. Note that there are fewer teeth/lobes.

As some of you may know, dandelions are one of my most favorite herbs. They are edible and medicinal and their yellow blossoms are immensely cheering. When I was a kid I used to take the blossoms and try to make perfume with them! (It didn’t work, darn it all.)

This is the perfect time to be digging up the roots for making bitter tonics and tinctures. Susun Weed says that spring-dug roots are more bitter than autumn-dug and excellent for bitter tonics. She says the best time to harvest the roots is between the warming of the earth and the first buds appearing.

If you want to eat the leaves before they get too bitter, you have to hurry, as the dandelions are already setting their buds, and once they start putting up their buds and blooming the leaves will be much more bitter.

If you want to know where the dandy buds are, get down on your knees and look into the center of a rosette of dandy leaves. Nestled into the very heart of the leaf rosette you will find a tightly-shut bud, ready to come up at the top of its individual stalk. It is amazing to watch the flowers grow, it is quite unique in my opinion.

Dandelion roots, leaves, buds, and flowers all are edible and can be used for medicine as well. Maude Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, gives a nice description of dandies and what can be done with them for food and medicine, here is a link:

One of the best resources for using dandies for food and medicine is Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise  which has a whole chapter, with wonderful recipes, on all parts of our friend Dandelion. And Dr. Peter A. Gail has a couple of books on dandies, as well, with easy recipes.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Young mugwort leaves in spring. The leaves will look very different once the plant starts growing, and on the stalks that will bear blooms.

Young mugwort leaves in spring. The leaves will look very different once the plant starts growing, and on the flowering stalks.

Mugwort is just peeping above the ground and it is the perfect time to use her for spring greens. Trim close to the ground and add the greens to your soup or stir-fries. Some Asian cultures are very fond of the young mugwort greens in the spring.

Later in the summer mugwort can be used for flavoring foods and for medicine, as well as dried for smudge sticks and moxabustion, if you’re so inclined.

Evening Primrose (Oenethera biennis)

evening primrose leaf rosetter

The leafy rosette of young second-year evening primrose.

Surely one of my favorite plants. Now is the last time you’ll be able to eat the roots until the fall. These biennials are gearing up for their second year of growth—leafing, blooming, going to seed, and then dying.

The roots are still edible, in that they have not yet gotten too stringy. The rosette of leaves as well is edible, with a peppery taste similar to the roots.

I use evening primrose roots in soups, stews, and stir-fries, and also throw them in the stock pot when making soup stock. The roots can be eaten raw in salads as well.

The rosettes of leaves get used similarly, before the plant starts its growth and flower-making process.

At this time of year you will only find second-year plants, as last year’s seeds have not yet started to sprout.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

young second year garlic mustard leaves

Young second-year garlic mustard leaves.

Another biennial, but considered very invasive, so feel free to eat as much as you want! It has rather heart-shaped leaves when the plant comes up, the stem leaves are pointed instead.

As the name implies, it has a garlicky scent when the leaves are crushed. It also has a garlicky taste when eaten raw, but that taste disappears when it is cooked, leaving the bitter taste paramount.

As with many mustard greens (and it is in the mustard family), it has a bitter taste, especially when cooked. Depending on your tastes, you may or may or not enjoy eating this plant, but it certainly is nutritious.

Garlic mustard can be eaten raw or cooked, and all above-ground parts can be eaten, including the flowers when it blooms. If you harvest a lot of it you can freeze it for use later.

Plantain  (Plantago major, P. lanceolata)

yougn broad-leaved plantain leaves

Very young broad-leaved plantain leaves.

Young narrow-leaved plantain leaves

Young narrow-leaved plantain leaves.

A trusty perennial, there are actually two species that abound in our area of the Northeast, and indeed, in many places in North America. The 2 species are broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major) and narrow-leaved, lance-leaved, or English plantain (P. lanceolata). Both are used the same way for food and medicine.

If you are going to eat plantain, now is the time to do so, when it is very young. It quickly gets too tough and stringy and then is good for teas and infused oils, but is not pleasant to eat.

Boil the young leaves for 3 to 4 minutes and eat as a veg or in soups, or make teas with the slightly older leaves. I dry the leaves to use in teas and to add to the stock pot during the cold months.

I also infuse the leaves of both species in oil, usually extra-virgin olive oil, for a really effective oil for skincare that gets added to lip balms, salves, and lotions.


burdock leaves

Young second-year burdock leaves.

All hail to this marvelous plant, another of our biennials! Again, the leaves you see coming up are from second-year plants, as the seeds from last year haven’t yet sprouted.

This is the perfect time to harvest leaves and roots. If you are going to eat the leaves you want to do so while they are very young and relatively tender. Later they get tough and unpalatable and are good for teas and infused vinegars, but not really for eating.

This is also your last chance to get the roots before the plant starts into its growth and bloom cycle. After this the plant will be putting its energy into growing, thus taking nutrients and energy out of the roots, and they will also become too stringy. Now is the time to eat the roots in salads or soups, or make them into medicines.

Violet (Viola spp.)

Young violet leaves.

Young violet leaves.

Violets are coming up now, and their slightly mucilaginous, mild-flavored leaves are a great addition to salads and soups. I especially like adding violet leaves to pea soup, they add nutrition and oomph to it.

Make sure you are harvesting violet leaves, as there can be some look-a-likes. Our common wild violet, which is the one you are most likely to encounter, has heart-shaped leaves that unfurl from the center; some other species have differently shaped leaves. Here is a link to help you properly identify wild violets.The wild violet can take over your garden plot if you don’t watch out (I am currently taking out numerous patches from my garden!).

The wild violet flowers are edible and medicinal. Generally they are eaten raw in salads, made into syrups, or candied for a condiment. The cool thing about these flowers is that you can use as many as you want without affecting the reproduction of the plant! The flowers are actually sterile, and therefore don’t set seed. The fertile, seed-setting flowers bloom later in the season, and are non-descript, growing close to the ground. These flowers and root-extension are how the violet spreads.

The wild violet leaves are very nutritious and mild-flavored, as well as being good medicine, and can be eaten throughout the season.

Both Susun Weed, in her Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise, and Peter Gail write about violet and how to use it for food and medicine.

Throughout the growing season I take people on walks to meet the many useful plants growing around us. It is wonderful to see the abundance of what is growing even in the middle of the city or in a lawn. If you’d like to take a walk with me, check out my schedule and come meet the plants!

What wild plants are you seeing come up and harvesting? Let me know in the comments below.


  •   Wildman Steve Brill’s app for foraging and plant i.d.
  •   identification tools for New England plants


(Desperately) Seeking Spring, and a Couple of Violet Recipes

snow field with trees in background

This is the snow bank behind my house.

This picture shows what the field by my house looked like 4 days after the official start of spring. As Henry Van Dyke said, “The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” I am hoping that by a month from now, I will be seeing only grass, and no snow!

Although this wintry, snowy view greets me at my windows and my doors, I am keeping a sharp eye out for anything that says “Spring!”

The birds are not deterred by the snow and are calling out their mating songs. Even the redwing blackbird is back in town, I can hear his cry. Cardinals are thinking reproduction, robins are rife, and the sparrows and chickadees are just plain excited.

The trees and shrubs also know it is spring. Examining twigs and branches closely, or observing the tree tops, will show the swelling of buds. You can see a halo of gold around the weeping willows and a blush of pink at the tops of the maples.

Buds have been enlarging for a couple of weeks now. Walking in Cambridge recently I was captivated with the bushes that had various sizes and shapes of buds. They obviously are not at all impressed by the snow! There was a largish witch hazel with about one-quarter of its branches lined in vibrant yellow blooms, which just made my heart sing.

What I am waiting for is dandylions and chickweed and speedwell and the tiny cresses (in the mustard family) that pop up early in the spring, or even late winter in other, milder, years. I am eager to see the particular blue of the speedwell, and to start nibbling on dandylion leaves and the tiny cresses. My neighborhood greenhouse is providing a few chickweed plants, but I want to see them in my garden, intermingling with the speedwell.

Soon enough, then, the violets will start to put out their leaves and their delicate flowers, which I will happily pick to make syrups and cordials. In honor of spring, below are two recipes that make use of the common wild violet that pops up all over New England lawns and gardens (sometimes to the chagrin of gardeners and lawn-lovers)

Happy Spring! (whenever it arrives…)Violet with blooms and leaves

Sweet Aunt Vi

1 cup packed violet blossoms
¼ cup water
Juice of 1 organic lemon
2 ½ cups organic sugar or raw honey

Make a thick paste of the violet blossoms, lemon juice, and water in your blender or food processor, or with a mortar and pestle. Blend in your sweetener very, very well. Store very cold, the freezer is fine and will keep it indefinitely.

Use ¼ teaspoon at a time, every hour or so, as needed, to help ease coughs, constipation, headaches, and grief.

I usually make half this recipe and find it sufficient for myself as a single person.

This recipe is from Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 1989.

Split Pea Soup with Violet Leaves

½ cup dried split peas
4 cups water plus ½ cup water
1 cup fresh violet leaves
Olive oil or lard
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Sour cream (optional)

Soak peas overnight, drain, then add water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until mushy soft. In separate pot, cook violet leaves in ½ cup water until they are very soft. Put in blender or food processor and blend into a slurry. Add to pot of cooked peas.

In a frying pan, put 2 to 4 tablespoons of good olive oil or lard, add onions and garlic and cook until nicely softened. Add to pea and violet leaf mix. Reheat until nice and hot.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream if you like!


Herbal Infusions and Teas

infusion in quart jar

An infusion of peppermint, lemon balm, and bee balm leaves and flowers (all from my garden)

Want to drink something delicious and healthy, cheap and simple to make, and easy to carry with you? Herbal infusions are the perfect answer! They are one of the most basic and easy ways to enjoy herbs and get their wonderful benefits.

What is an herbal infusion? It is simply a water extract of one or more herbs. It is stronger than an herbal tea, and takes more herb material. But it is as easy to make as a loose-leaf tea.

Because there can be confusion as to what is an infusion and a tea, and the differences, if any, between them, let’s define them, at least for the purposes of this article.

Many herbalists and herbals use one or the other term and they seem to mean the same thing, referring to a water-based extraction that uses a fairly small amount of herb steeped for 10 or 15 minutes or maybe half an hour (to me this is a tea). At other times the term tea refers to using a large amount of herb matter steeped for a short period of time. However, my understanding of the difference between an infusion and a tea, gained in part from Susun Weed, is that an infusion is much stronger and more concentrated than a tea.

My definition of teas and infusions is this: A tea uses 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of herb/s per cup of boiling water, steeped about 5 to 15 minutes. An infusion uses 1 ounce of herb material to 1 pint to 1 quart of boiling water, and is steeped anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours or overnight, depending on the herb.

An herbal tea may be drunk for its medicinal properties or for the pleasure of its taste, or both. An infusion is quite often clearly medicinal and will often be used for its medicinal qualities.

Often, I am not sure quite what I want from my herbal drink—do I want something medicinal, just something that tastes good, or both? I will end up doing something that is between a tea and an infusion, using a goodly quantity of herb/s—more than a tea requires, but less than an infusion. I end up with a strongly-flavored drink that is at least somewhat medicinal and often tastes good, if I’ve gotten the right blend of herbs (I am always using different combinations, again depending on my mood).

Herbal Teas

Making herbal teas is fun! Don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations of various herbs you like and try different amounts mixed together. When it comes to taste, there is no right or wrong, only what delights your mouth and your senses.

In my experience, using a good quantity of herbs for your tea makes for a better tasting brew. If you think herb teas are insipid and weak, then you probably have not been using nearly enough herb matter for a cup of tea. Use more! The taste will be surprisingly robust and may truly change your mind (or your friends’) about what an herbal tea can be.


Generally, the proportion of herb to water for tea is to use about a tablespoon of dry herb to a cup of boiling water. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, cover (to keep in the essential oils and other good stuff), let steep for 15 minutes, then uncover and sip. You can add sugar, honey, maple syrup, or stevia for sweetening, and/or milk of your choice. Enjoy!


dry herbs for infusion in quart jar

Dry herbs ready to be infused

An infusion is made by soaking plant material (usually dried) in water that has been brought to a boil. The infusion steeps anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours, depending on the plant material being infused. Boiling water must be used to break open the cell walls of the plant to allow them to release their constituents. Make sure you have good strainer to strain out your herb material.

What you need:

  • A heat-proof pint or quart jar, such as a spaghetti jar or canning (mason) jar (You can also use a cooking pot or pan that has a lid.)
  • A lid to fit the top of the jar, screw-on and tight-fitting if you will be transporting your infusion.
  • Boiling water
  • Herb/s
  • Strainer


Using the proportions of plant material to water below, put your herb material into the heat-proof jar with a lid or other covering that won’t allow steam to escape. Bring your water to a boil, pour over the plant material in the jar to the bottom of where the lid comes, and cover. (The lid needs to be kept on to keep volatile constituents from escaping.) Now let it steep for the time indicated for the plant materials you have used. When you are ready to drink it, strain it out with your strainer into another jar or into a cup or mug.

Usually it’s easiest to infuse one herb at a time. If infusing an herb blend, infuse for the time needed for the ingredient that gets infused for the shortest time. For instance, if you’re infusing a blend that includes anise seeds or hawthorn berries, even if it includes roots, you will only let it sit for ½ hour. If you’re using a blend that includes chamomile flowers, you’ll only let it sit for 2 hours, and so forth.

However, I don’t worry too much about being exact when I am steeping an infusion, and often mine sit for hours before I get to them.

Infusions can be drunk warm or cold. If you’ve let it steep for several hours, you can warm it up on the stove or in the microwave.

flowers and herbs infusion in quart jar

Flowers and herbs infused, ready to be strained for an herbal bath

Infusions are easy to take with you in their jars, strained or not. They only last about 24 to 36 hours, even with refrigeration, so plan on making fresh infusions every day or two. If it starts smelling or tasting off, let it go—give it the plants, indoors or out.

Infusions can also be used as the basis for other herbal products, such as shampoos, or as the base for soups, drinks, and other herbal consumables.


For all parts of a plant, except roots and bark, the proportion is 1 ounce of dried plant material to 1 quart of boiling water. For roots and bark, it is 1 ounce of plant material to one pint of boiling water. See chart below.

                                    Length of Time for Infusing

Plant Part           Amount            Jar/Water       Length of infusion

Roots/Barks     1 oz./30 g.         pint/500 ml      8 hours minimum

Leaves              1 oz./30 g.         quart/liter       4 hours minimum

Flowers             1 oz./30 g.         quart/liter       2 hours maximum

Seeds/Berries  1 oz./30 g.          pint/500 ml    30 minutes maximum

The information on making infusions and the table of proportions are from The Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun Weed, Ash Tree Press, 1989.

Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 2

dehydrated apples and tomatoes in jars

Dehydrated apples and tomatoes in jars.

Are you looking to save some of the food from your garden, your foraging walks, or the farmers market for use during the winter? If you are short on space as I am, one of the best ways to do it is to dry or dehydrate your food and plants.

In “Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 1” I discussed drying by hanging bunches of plants or herbs or laying them on flat surfaces where air can circulate. It’s a marvelous way to preserve your food simply and easily.

However, once I got a dehydrator, I found that it was very useful for preserving a number of things including tomatoes, squash, and leafy greens like goosefoot and amaranth.

In this article I discuss how to use a dehydrator for simple drying and dehydrating of plants and herbs, vegetables and fruits.


I have an excellent electric dehydrator from Excalibur, which makes my job easy. This brand is the one I recommend. You can buy other brands, and you can also find instructions for making solar and other kinds of dehydrators.

If you don’t have a dehydrator you can use your oven, putting it on its lowest setting and leaving the door slightly open.

My dehydrator get its greatest use in the fall. I dehydrate kale, apples, squashes, and other fruits and veggies. My cupboards get crowded with paper bags and glass jars of dried produce ready for my winter soups, stews, puddings, and apple crisps.

I take a very relaxed approach to dehydrating, not worrying terribly much about getting just the right temperature or just how long it will take.

Directions for Dehydrating

Here are a few suggestions for drying some of the produce that is still available at this time of year.

Note: I will sometimes dry 2 or 3 different things in the dehydrator at once, such as apples and kale. After a few hours I will check for how dry things are and take out the pieces that are ready to be put away, then continue drying the rest of what’s in the dehydrator.

I have found that I usually put the dehydrator at about 105 degrees F. and that seems to work for whatever I am drying.

  • Kale: Strip the leafy part off of the midrib. The midrib will take forever to dry and is better either thrown in the freezer for soup stock or composted. Lay the leafy portions of kale on your dehydrator tray, flattening them as you can, and making sure not to overlap them. It is quite easy to feel when the kale is dry enough, and is often somewhat crumbly when done.
  • Apples: I don’t bother peeling my apples, but if you don’t want the
    cut apples ready for dehydrating

    Cut apples ready for dehydrating.

    peels, then take them off. I core the apples with an apple corer, then slice them across the cored area into rounds that are about 1/8 inch thick. If you get lumpy, wild-grown apples, it may not be worth trying to core them, and then just slice them from side to the other around the core. If you get bothered by your apples turning brown you can dip them into lemon juice before placing them on the trays of the dehydrator. Many of your slices will twist and buckle slightly as they dry. The apples slices are dry when they are leathery and have no moisture when you break a slice open. If you aren’t sure if they are dry enough, let them go a little longer. Also, storing them in a paper bag with allow for any extra moisture to evaporate rather than possibly molding as would happen in a glass or plastic container.

    sliced tomatoes ready to be dehydrated

    Sliced tomatoes ready to be dehydrated.

  • Tomatoes: slice ¼ inch thick, clear out as much of the seeds as you can, place in a single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. The slices will be leathery when dry. (You will have tomato-y juice from slicing afterward, I like to put it in soups or drink i t.)
  • Summer squash and zucchini: slice ⅛ to ¼ inch thick, place in a single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. The slices will be leathery to crisp when dry.
  • baked butternut squash

    Baked butternut squash, ready to have flesh scooped out.

    Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, or kabocha: Cook squash first. The easiest way to cook the squash is to cut it lengthwise and place the halves cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. The squash is done when a fork easily pierces the skin and flesh. When the squash has cooled, scoop out the seeds and eat them, give them to the squirrels, or compost them. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and use a blender or food processor to thoroughly puree the cooked squash so you don’t have lumps, otherwise it will not dry evenly.

    dehydrated squash puree

    Butternut squash that has been pureed and dehydrated.

    Using parchment paper or special sheets that come with some dehydrators, spread the pureed squash in a thin layer about ¼ inch thick. Proceed to dehydrate until thoroughly dry. The squash will easily lift off the sheet at this point, and will look somewhat like fruit leather. It is easy to see if it is still damp at any point and needing further drying. I break up the sheets of dried squash for storage. I use it in puddings and soups. Very convenient!

I hope you enjoy dehydrating your wonderful harvest, whether it’s a bushel of apples or just a few kale leaves. Let me know what you dehydrated and how it turned out in the comments section.


Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 1  

Dried goodsefoot and amaranth leaves in paper bag

Dried goosefoot and amaranth leaves in paper bag, ready for winter stews.

Do you like to preserve your harvest for the coming winter months? Even though I don’t can and only have a tiny freezer, I love to preserve the plants and foods that are ripening and fruiting at this time of year. My answer to limited space is to dry and dehydrate.

I have been drying my herbs for years, and a few years ago started drying more weeds and flowers, such as day lily flowers, to use in winter dishes like hearty stews. Last winter when a particularly vicious depression hit, the dried goosefoot, amaranth, kale, and other foods in my pantry were a real life saver.

Here are some suggestions on drying herbs and plants for the winter and general use that I have developed over the years.


By drying I mean drying the plant matter completely so that there is no moisture left and it can be stored in paper bags or glass jars. I don’t dry fleshy fruits or vegetables this way because they would take up too much room and I would worry about molding.

To dry plants that I will use for food or medicine, I hang them or lay them on wicker paper plate holders or other flat, woven basketry. When using wicker or basketry, make sure to put the plant material in a single layer so it will dry quickly and well. Piling it makes a good environment for mold. You may have to turn the plant material or stir it a bit to facilitate the drying process.

pegboard with drying herbs

Pegboard in my kitchen with herbs and flowers ready to dry.

I have a piece of pegboard on the wall of my kitchen with pegs on it on which I hang bunches of plant material, flowers, and seed heads. There is plenty of air flow around the plants and they dry very well. I used to have the side rail of a baby crib that I hung with chains from the basement ceiling (we had a dehumidifier so it kept the basement dry and worked for the plant material) and made hooks that hung off of the slats and held the plant bunches.

An easy way to make a quick drying apparatus is to take a clothes hanger and use pulled apart metal paper clips for hooks to hang your plan material. Make sure to hang it where it will get good air circulation.

Pegboard with partially dried herbs.

Pegboard with partially dried herbs and sundry items.

There are many other ways to hang your plant materials—rows of wooden pegs, off of chandeliers, hooks or nails in a shed, and so on. One other way to dry plants is to put them in a paper bag with plenty of air space. I don’t often do this, but some people swear by it.

Drying Roots

When roots are small enough and thin enough, I will hang them to dry, especially if they are attached to the above-ground part of the plants, as with small dandelions. Generally, however, the best way to dry roots is to chop them up and spread them out on a wicker surface, or just a regular plate, to dry. You want to chop up your roots unless they are really small and thin, because otherwise when they dry out they can be very difficult, if not impossible, to cut into small pieces that can then be put into the tea pot or eaten in soups.

Preparing Your Plant Material for Drying

To prepare your plants for hanging to dry, make sure they are dry and clean of all dirt. Rinse off dirt if you need to.

Gather several stems of what you drying into a bunch and bind it tightly at one end, either with string or a rubber band. (When you use string you can put a loop at one end for hanging.) Hang your bunches spaced slightly apart so that the air can get to all parts of them. Let dry for several days to a week or more until plant material is completely dry, there is no moisture left in it.

Leaves are dry when they are somewhat crumbly. You will need to judge more by the look and feel for flowers and stems. It can be hard to tell at times if something is completely dry. It can take experience with the different plants you are drying to know what is dry enough. If in doubt, leave it a bit longer. Storing your dried plant materials in a paper bag is helpful if you are unsure about dryness.


red clover in jar

Red clover in a jar for teas and infusions.

I store what I have dried in glass jars and paper bags. Paper bags are especially easy to pile and squeeze into your cupboards or storage space. I like to leave my plant materials as whole as possible, as It gives less surface area for air to diminish the nutrients. I do, however, crush leaves when it makes it easier to get them in the bag or jar, or when I am trying to get as much as possible into the container or bag.

I hope this gets you started on drying some food or herbs for your winter dishes, and for general use year-round.

What have you dried and how have you used it? Tell me in the comments section below.

Foraged Blackberry Vinegar and Syrup: Summer Goodness Year ′Round


Blackberries–ripe, unripe, and very unripe

Blackberries in summer—what could be better? The blackberries on the canes edging the woods near my house are starting to ripen and I am starting to harvest them. I will of course be popping them straight into my mouth, but I will also save some for my morning oatmeal, find room in the freezer for a few, and make my favorites: blackberry vinegar and blackberry syrup.

Blackberry vinegar is the first step to making blackberry syrup, and they are both really easy to do. I used them both to make a delicious drink last winter, until I ran out of the vinegar. Needless to say, I will make and have on hand more vinegar this year!

Before I give you the directions for making these delightful products, let’s take a quick look at blackberry.

It is a plant in the Rose family, and as with other members of this family, its white flowers have five petals. There are a number of species of blackberries, and they are native to many parts of the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia. There are blackberries that grow in great bushy piles, with canes many feet long and wicked thorns, and there are blackberries that trail along the ground, called dewberries.

Thimbleberry Rubus_parviflorus in flower

Flower of thimbleberry, a species of blackberry.

I don’t worry too much about what species I am picking from, for I know that whatever it is, it’s edible and that’s what counts!

It is a perennial, meaning the plant lives for a number of years. It spreads readily by root extension, and can be very invasive, with very strong, persistent roots. This is great if you want lots of berries, not so great when you have to keep pulling prickly shoots out of your garden.

According to A Modern Herbal, blackberry flowers, leaves, and fruit were used for various health issues from ancient times. However, in the present the parts of the plant that are used medicinally are the leaves and the roots, both of which contain a good proportion of tannins, though the root more so. The astringency of the tannins contributes to their medicinal actions. The berries may also be used medicinally.

In years past I have dried the leaves, sometimes mixing them with raspberry leaves, and used them for a pleasant tasting tea which is slightly reminiscent of black tea, or mixed them with other herbs in herbal teas.

Blackberries are ripe when they easily pull away from the vine. They don’t ripen off the vine, so don’t try harvesting any before they are actually ripe. The nice thing about blackberries is that they ripen over a period of several weeks, so you can go back a few times to get more.

Here are the instructions for making, first, Blackberry Vinegar, and then Blackberry Syrup (the recipe is from A Modern Herbal). I suggest you make some of each as they are both delightful. Remember that you can also use the vinegar for salads and desserts, and the syrup is lovely on ice cream, too.

 Blackberry Vinegar

1 quart of ripe blackberries, destemmed
Vinegar—apple cider, red wine, or malt

Fill a quart jar with blackberries to just below the threads where the lid fits. Fill the jar with vinegar until the berries are just covered. Put on the lid and let sit for three days to draw the juice out.

After 3 days strain through a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.

Let your berries sit and drip for a few hours until the vinegar-juice has finished straining.

At this point you can bottle it up with a pretty label and use the vinegar, or you can make Blackberry Syrup.

Note: If you are using raw apple cider vinegar, as I do, your vinegar may get a white bloom on top. I am not sure what that is, whether it is the growth of a vinegar mother or something else. If this concerns you, simply put your vinegar in a pan and boil gently for few minutes to pasteurize it.

Blackberry Syrup

bottle of blackberry syrup

The end of last year’s blackberry syrup.

1 pint blackberry vinegar
1 pound sugar—can be raw, sugar cane crystals, etc.

Place vinegar and sugar in a pan. Heat to boiling and gently boil for 5 minutes, removing any scum that arises. Let cool and bottle with a pretty label.

Note: I used slightly less sugar than this recipe calls for and my syrup came out fine. You can experiment and see how much sugar you want to use.

According to A Modern Herbal, 1 teaspoon of the syrup, mixed with a glass of water, “will often quench thirst when other beverages fail and makes a delicious drink in fever.” It makes “a fine cordial for a feverish cold.”

I find that putting the vinegar and syrup together makes a drink that is tasty and very thirst-quenching. Here are proportions to start with, and then you can adjust to your own taste.

Blackberry Tonic

1 qt. water or carbonated water
1/3 to 1/2 cup blackberry syrup
1/4 cup blackberry vinegar

Mix and enjoy! You can pour it over ice for a refreshing drink on a hot day.

A  Modern Herbal by Mrs. Maude Grieve, originally published in 1931, reprint available from Dover. Online version:

The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler, 2004, William Morrow