Endangered Edibles: a Gift from Indigenous Peoples and the Amazon Rainforest

In a previous post, I wrote about my experiences traveling into the Amazon rainforest. A year before my trip to South America, I traveled to Mexico! I had enrolled in a class called Ecosystem Restoration at SUNY-ESF. The hook for me was an advertised trip to visit the Lacandon Mayan people.

I’ll attempt in this article to compare the way the Lacandon Mayan produce food, with the indigenous practices in Amazon rainforest of South America.

I hope to show that the indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, had and currently have a sophisticated understanding of how to produce food in a sustainable way.

We finally arrived by bus to their small village in southern Mexico. An avocado tree was offering up large fruit, and it stood like a sentinel dangling over the cooling river.

The sun was baking hot, and I wanted to jump into that cold looking river. With my pack stored away in a mosquito-excluded hut, I ran to the river to jump in. There I found two young Lancandon kids climbing young trees and diving from their tops into the flowing river. The sense of freedom from these young kids was striking.

We were to stay here a few days. Over these days, our plans were to visit a Mayan archaeological sites, a sacred waterfall, and maybe most importantly see their milpas.

The day finally came to see a milpa. Essentially a milpa is a traditional system of food production in Central America, and our professor, Stew Diemont, was a leading authority and collaborator with the Lacandon Mayans.

He led us through a dense patch of forest where we finally emerged out of and approached a small house where bananas hanging over the outdoor kitchen, dogs running around on the dirt road, and his kids swinging in the hammocks. I knew again that I had found something special.

Stew Diemont introduced the indigenous man to us.

When we asked Stew later, how he learned how to take care of the milpa, he responded “from his great-grandfather when he was about sixteen.”

According to the Lacandon man, there are seven stages in their milpa. Each stage provides some kind of food (plant and animal), fiber, medicine, and so on.

But they all look different from each-other, and we were going to see them fist hand.

The first stage looked at first like an ordinary field of planted corn. However, when I looked in between the corn, I found melons, and edible greens which included plants in the Amaranthaceae, Portulacaceae, and Asteraceae plant families.

Our guide took out his machete, and showed us the rich soil, that teemed with insects and microbes. He was proud of it, and the smiled affirmed this.

The following three papers I hope will shine some light on some of the background of what I saw in Mexico and Ecuador.

1) The first paper is called “Legacy of Amazonian Dark Earth soils on forest structure and species composition” by Oliveira et. al.

The article begins by suggesting a connection between the number of domesticated trees in the Amazon, and human involvement in the past.

Oliveria et. al., writes, “Following the arrival of European colonialists in the 15th and 16th centuries, the pre-Columbian populations were estimated in the millions”.

The introduction of guns, germs, and steel led to nearly 90% decimation in their population! What was left behind? Well, it’s taken researchers 500 years to see the indigenous tropical technologies that communities up and down Native America were employing.

2) A second paper called “New Insights From Pre-Columbian Land Use and Fire Management in Amazonian Dark Earth Forests” by Maezumi et. al.

This article goes into what Amazonian Dark Earth soils are. It’s obvious to me that the Lacandon Mayans too were producing ADEs.

They team writes “Nutrient rich ADEs are abundant in charcoal and ash, along with other organic additives, including human waste, domestic refuse, crop residues, compost, and mulch, which release nutrients and carbon into the soil”. The frequent use of controlled fire in the Mayan milpas is well-known.

It’s called wind tending, and according to Stew Diemont, they “use fire to remove most of the brush and litter from anarea of land while keeping the fire under control and preventing it from jumping the firebreak and burning adjacent fields or converting the entire biomass to ash requires considerable skill. Individuals known as “wind tenders” in the Yucatán (yum ik’ob in Yukatek) carry out the burns.”

Maezumi et. al., goes to say that amongst the indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the use a few techniques to take care of their forests is documented. They include “the removal of non-useful plants, protection of useful plants, attraction of non-human dispersers, human transportation of plants, selection of useful phenotypes, planting, soil improvement, and fire management”.

The Mayan too produce what is known as NTFP’s or Non Timber Forest Products. Our guide towards the end of our day, picked from a tree a sapote, which comes from the Nahuatl word tzapotl.

3) The final paper is called “How People Domesticated Amazonian Forests” by Levis and Flores. The researchers begin the paper with a bold statement.

It reads, “The notion of pristine rainforests has been questioned by increasing archaeological and ecological evidence suggesting long-term human activities across even the most intact forests worldwide.” The scientists note that at least 85 different species of trees have been domesticated in the Amazon, on some level, prior to the arrival of European explorers.

Eighty-five species! Can you name eighty-five different species of local plants?

My experience with the Lacandon Mayans left me in a such a state of gratitude. We finished our trip with them by visiting their sacred waterfall. As the water washed over me, I remember contemplating both the challenges and the beauties of their current community.

The Lacandon people today, and other tropical tribes throughout the world, are still dealing with industrialization, pollution, and other changes, especially when it comes to diet.

My heart is singing a hymn as I think back on the experiences with the Lacandon People in Central America and the Shiviar People in South America. It’s as if, i’ve been touched at a deep level from spirits of the forest.

I hope these words inspire you to appreciate the indigenous more, and bring home some of their timeless teachings.

As always, please forage responsibly and in sovereignty. The plants are alive, and are living, just like us.

Rest in peace, Sara Moore.

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Endangered Edibles: How Wild Foods Contribute to Overall Health Parameters


I’ve been thinking about how wild foods contribute to one’s health. Further questions have arisen over the years, as i’ve contemplated this tremendously important topic.

Examples of these internal questions are:

Do I need to live outdoors every night to be healthy?
Do I need to get sunlight on my skin as I walk 10 miles each day to find food?
Do I need to laugh, wrestle, and sing with my community?

Australian Aborigines

What does real health look like, in the past and in the present?


I’d like to use the opportunity here to share two peer-reviewed articles in my hopes of examining real measures of ancestral health.

The first article I’d like to point to is called “Forest foods and healthy diets: quantifying the contributions” by Rowland et. al.

The researchers from 2016 looked at the Hadza people of Tanzania.

They start off the paper by saying that “just 12 crops and 14 animal species make up 98% of agricultural food supply while just three crops – wheat, maize and rice – supply over half of global calories”.

I think is fact is amazing, and says a-lot about our relationships with our earth and our bodies, given that our ancestors certainly ate more that 12 crops and 14 animal species throughout the year.

The researchers looked at the Hadza in part because they’re one of the last hunter-gatherer peoples on our planet, and can possibly hold answers about our shared patterns of ancestral health.

You’ve already read in my other articles, that wild plants often are more nutritious than cultivated plants. The Hadza people eat a species of tuber, small and large game, honey from stinging and stingless bees, leafy green foliage, baobab fruit and one species of berry.

They don’t consume dairy or grains, but they do love their meat and honey!

The second article that I can point to, is one published in 2014. It again looked at the Hadza people.

This paper is called “Gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherers”.

The researchers begin by noting how the health of our gut influences the health of our digestion, mood, immune system, and much more yet to be discovered!

Jeff Leach, one of the main researchers visited the Hadza, and took samples of their environment over a few months. All of their work was of course was consensual, and followed accepted guidelines for ethnographic research.

Their results are very interesting, because they reported evidence of pathogenic bacteria (i.e., Treponema) at levels that would cause a Westerner to become sick. In other words, the Hadza were adapted to bacteria that keep them healthy.


The paper said according to older research, “the Hadza have relatively low rates of infectious disease, metabolic disease and nutritional deficiencies in comparison with other settled groups in the northern Tanzania and southeastern Uganda region”.

The hunter-gather’s of Tanzania, not only hunt and gather, but also are exposed to plenty of UV light exposure, avoided the use of modern antibiotics and hand-sanitizers, and fluoridated drinking water.

They’ll eat much of their hunted meat raw, drink from waters that their prey use, and move a great deal throughout the day. Division of labor is a thing amongst the sexes in their tribe.

There isn’t black and whites in my conclusions. After all, I am writing this article from the comfort of my home.

I hunt and gather, sleep outdoors, and move often, but i’m not a Hadza hunter-gatherer.

What and who am I becoming?

I hope that this article introduced you to one indigenous group in Africa that is experiencing a high level of health, even without our modern comforts.

There are many more indigenous groups that we could point too, that depend on wild plants, animals, mushrooms, insects, and other food groups for sustenance.

Time and destiny will tell how each group will continue to survive and thrive in future decades. I would make a bet however, that the best to survive are the indigenous peoples who carry on their traditions, and adopt the new ones as well.

I am grateful for the modern technologies that are serving the betterment of human-kind.

I hope this paper served you on your journey of eating wild foods. I know it’s modern and cool to forage, and I want you to continue! Please do responsibly and in sovereignty. The plants are alive, and are living just like us humans.

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Endangered Edibles: What One Man Chose to Save During a 28-month Nazi Invasion

Prior to the end of World War II in Europe, a man named Nikolai Vavilov and a group of scientists withstood a 28-month long holdout in the city of Leningrad, Russia. They were ordered to protect over 200,000 samples of rare plants, and to keep them from being confiscated by the Nazis. The Nazis at the time, longed for everything special, and important.

These plants in city of Leningrad, would certainly fit the category. They did succeed in protecting these samples that included old varieties of crops from around the world, such as maize and wheat.

Instead of eating their samples, nine of the scientists died of starvation after the 2-year long siege of Leningrad. Vavilov didn’t die of starvation, but of imprisonment by the country who he thought stood beside his work in 1943.

Vavilov’s Discoveries?

Vavilov (fifth from left to right) during his visit to Uruguay in 1937

Nikolai Vavilov is mostly known for his theories on the Origin of Cultivated Plants, and the Centers of Plant Diversity in the world. In 1927, he organized a conference in Berlin, Germany to share his results with the world. Below is a diagram of what he believed were the eight centers of cultivated plant origins. Since then, this map has been updated (see Purugganan and Fuller, 2008).

Disagreement in the U.S.S.R.:

One of the reasons why people speculate that Vavilov got himself thrown into prison by Joseph Stalin, was his disagreements with a man named Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko, unlike Vavilov vehemently rejected Mendelian genetics, which was made famous in 1865-66, and supported by Charles Darwin. Instead he tended to supporting Lamarckism, which has found support recently with the work of epi-genetics.


Mexico-Guatamala

Peru-Ecuador-Bolivia

Southern Chile

Paraguay, Southern-Brazil

Mediterranean

Middle East

Ethiopia

Central Asia

Indo-Burma

Siam-Malaya-Java

China and Korea

Plant Biodiversity and Foraging

It’s my belief that foraging, gardening, and organic farms holds a key to the health and integrity of our future as a species.

But what specifically is the role of foraging, and the diversity of our planet’s flora?

Scientists know that many indigenous communities today, consume more plants than the average westerner, shopping in a modern grocery store.

After all, you’re broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and kohlrabi that you buy, are really only 1 species!

One way to visualize this is through what has been called the “Foraging Spectrum”. Nikolai Vavilov’s work would fall all the way to right, into the “Agriculture” category.

I could add to this diagram, by saying that we should be growing and eating our crops in a wilder way. I think as a people, we have totally become disconnected from where our food comes from.

For me, foraging has been a way of simplifying my life. What i’m beginning to understand is that I have to go deeper. I have to tend to the plant communities wherever i’m living, and share their amazing qualities to the people.

I want my ancestors to be proud of all of our work, and I believe that bringing farming and foraging together again is one way of continuing the good work.

Thank you to all the plant protectors!

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Medicinal Plants of New York: Why white pine is now your favorite supplement!

Eastern white pine or Pinus strobus is one of my go-to plants whenever i’m feeling a bit under the weather. Many people have forgotten that P. strobus is home to many health giving properties that can positively affect our immune system and endocrine system (hormones). In this article, you”ll learn how to identify this tree, how it’s been used in the past, and why to incorporate it into your life again.

Let’s get Technical!

GoBotany

Characteristics (borrowed from GoBotany)

Habitat: terrestrial and wetlands

Leaf form: the leaves are needle-like

Leaf cross-section: the needle-like leaves are rounded, or flattened on one side (can be rolled between the fingers)

Leaf arrangement: the needle-like leaves are in clusters or held on short shoots

Leaf clustering: the needle-like leaves are in bundles or clusters of five

BONAP



Indigenous Use(s)

A relative of white pine

Apparently, the Haudenosaunee or the Iroquois used to be called bark-eaters by their Algonquian speaking neighbors, at the time of contact with the early colonials. Like the indigenous reindeer herders of Sweden, the Haudenosaunee would prepare the bark of eastern white pine similar to the photo above. The recipe was to strip the bark, dry it, and then pound it into flour.

The Ojibwe Indians of the Great Lakes Region are said to stew the young cones with their meat, into a tasty and nutritious soup!

The bark of this tree, combined with the roots, make beautiful and waterproof baskets of different styles and sizes. I am grateful to have learned how to make them in Maine with Arthur Haines, and in the Adirondacks with Robin Kimmerer.

The Chippewa People of the Great Lakes region used the resin to superficial wounds.

Arthur Haines

Phyto-Chemistry



Several studies below corroborate the health-affirming properties of P. strobus.

1) In, “Neuroprotective Effects of Korean Red Pine (Pinus densiflora) Bark Extract and Its Phenolics”, the authors suggest the Korean Red Pine Bark’s antioxidants protect our brain from oxidative damage, which has been on the rise since World War II.

2) In “Comparative effects of enzogenol® and vitamin C supplementation versus vitamin C alone on endothelial function and biochemical markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in chronic smokers.”, the authors note that combining Pinus radiata bark with ascorbic acid does demonstrate favorable effects on protein damage and fibrinogen levels in the blood.

3) In “Antioxidant, immunomodulatory and anti-breast cancer activities of phenolic extract from pine (Pinus massoniana Lamb) bark.”, the authors write P. massoniana contains benefial antioxidants, and can help remove excess iron from the body. They went on to further say that human breast cancer cells were inhibited when exposed to the extract.

4) Lastly, in “Qualitative and quantitative determination of natural testosterone type steroids in pollen from two Greek Pinus species (P. nigra and P. heldreichii)”, the author said that “ Pinus nigra contains epitestosterone, 5α-androstane-3α,17β-diol, 5β-androstane-3α,17β-diol and etiocholanolone…while total content of steroids 1.2 µg/10g. Pinus heldreichii, not previously studied, contained the same steroids at a much higher total content of 7.57 µg/10gr of pollen”!

In conclusion, look no further than your local forest or park to engage with this plant. You don’t need your modern grocery store to enjoy this plant.

This plant continue to serves me in so many wonderful and surprising ways. I know it will for you too. I know it’s modern and cool to forage, and I want you to continue! Please do responsibly and in sovereignty. The plants are alive, and are living just like us humans.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out. Give our new video a watch as well. Thanks for reading!

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Edible Plants of New York: Why do cultures around the world cherish the other plantain?


Common plantain, or in Latin, Plantago major is a common weed of lawns, and can be found growing next to common dandelion. However, many people have forgotten about the life-affirming benefits from consuming this plant.

You can go out into your backyard to pick the young leaves. When you have enough, you can enjoy them in a salad, or even into a smoothie! The seeds can be dried and pounded in flour, or also placed in your blender. Have you ever heard of psyllium husk? Simply put, psyllium husk is actually made up of plantain seeds!


Let’s get Technical!

GoBotany

Characteristics (borrowed from GoBotany)

Flower petal color: other, white

Leaf type: the leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets

Leaf arrangement: (basal) the leaves are growing only at the base of the plantLeaf

Blade edge: the edge of the leaf blade has teeth, the edge of the leaf blade is entire (has no teeth or lobes)

Flower symmetry: there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)

Fruit type: (general) the fruit is dry and splits open when ripe

Indigenous Use(s)

Plantain Salve

1) “Ethnobotanical survey of Zagori (Epirus, Greece), a renowned centre of folk medicine in the past” is one study in which villages in north-west Greece were studied. The researchers found that the people there, use over 100 different species of plants for medicine (and plantain is one of them)! No wonder Greece is home to super-centenarians!

2) “Ethnobotanical Uses, Chemical Constituents, and Application of Plantago lanceolata L.” is a second study that looked at Plantago lanceolata. The researchers note that the plant has been used in China for over 3,000 years!

3) “Ethnobotanical Study of Medicinal Plants in Kazeroon, Iran: Identification, Distribution and Traditional Usage” is a third study in which the researchers found that the indigenous people consider three species in the genus Plantago to be medicinal. If you want help remembering what a “genus” means, see my other article to learn more.

4) “Ethnobotanical study of the medicinal plants from Tlanchinol, Hidalgo, México” is a fourth study that affirms the the medicinal uses of Plantago australis. Specifically, the respiratory system is noted.

5) “Ethnobotany of Jeju Island, Korea” is a fifth article that mentions Plantago asiatica 34 times by the studied!

6) Lastly, according to the North American Ethnobotanical Database, Plantago is mentioned in 191 searches by Native Americans.

Phyto-Chemistry

Phytochemistry

In conclusion, you don’t need your modern grocery store to enjoy this plant. All you need is the willingness, knowledge, and an intact landscape to hold space for this plant.

This plant has helped heal from wounds and stings, and has served as a delicious additive to my crazy smoothies and salads!

I know it’s modern and cool to forage, and I want you to continue! Please do responsibly and in sovereignty.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out. Give our new video a watch as well. Thanks for reading!

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Edible Plants of the Northeast: What are ramps?

By Arthur Haines. Copyright © 2022 Arthur Haines.

Ramps or wild leek are one of my favorite, but relatively rare spring edibles in the northeast. It’s leaves taste to me like a combination of sweet garlic, and soft broccoli. You can watch a recent video of a protect wild leek patch here.

When I eat of it’s leaves, I consider myself lucky! I’ve only recently come to understand that the leek is a highly sought after, wild vegetable – so much so in fact, that the demand for it has caused the plant to become of special concern in Maine, endangered in New Hampshire, and rare in Rhode Island!

Do you remember how I wrote about what makes a species a species? Below is a way that scientists categorize the conservation status of species.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_status

Facts

According to GoBotany “Wild leek is found in rich, moist forests and high terrace floodplains throughout New England. There are two varieties in our area: the first (var. tricoccum) is common and found in all New England states, while the other (var. burdickii) is rather rare and found only in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Wild leek is one of the most over-harvested wild foods, leading to declines in some areas as several studies have shown. A recent study concluded that a 10% harvest once every ten years is the maximum sustainable harvest. If bulbs are to be harvested, leave behind the base of the bulb (with the attached roots), collect only after the seeds have ripened, and use them to reseed the soil disturbed during harvesting.”

Habitat

I was first introduced to this plant by Arthur Haines, who is a great botanist, primitive skills practitioner, and mentor. I was attending one of his Spring Foraging events in Western Maine. We had just crossed the Androscoggin River with a canoe. We were heading to to an island that was full of ramps, fiddleheads, and many more excellent wild greens.

The island was a perfect spot for wild leeks to grow. Arthur Haines seemed to believe that the indigenous peoples of the area had been tending this patch for hundreds of years. Arthur had never seen a patch bigger than this patch on the island before, and this was saying something because he’s a professional botanist.

Characteristics

This is how GoBotany describes the wild leek.

Leaf arrangement: basal: the leaves are growing only at the base of the plant

Leaf blade shape: the leaf blade is elliptic (widest near the middle and tapering at both ends); the leaf blade is lanceolate (lance-shaped; widest below the middle and tapering at both ends)

Leaf blade length: 150–400 mm

Flower petal color: white, yellow

Flower petal length: 4–7 mm

Petal fusion: the perianth parts are separate

Inflorescence (flower) type: the inflorescence is an umbel (with an axis so short it appears the flowers all originate from the same point)

Ovary position: the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment

Fruit type (specific): the fruit is a capsule (splits along two or more seams, apical teeth or pores when dry, to release two or more seeds)

How to Use a Hand Lens Magnifier

Concern

Arthur spoke a lot about conserving this plant. First of all, he recommended to avoid harvesting the bulbs, because this would kill entire plant. He then talked about research that he was involved in examining the chemicals found in the plant. The results were shocking, because it showed signs of many harmful chemicals.

Do you know why?

The bulbs of the wild leeks in this study were being exposed to water (because it was a floodplain) that had been contaminated upstream by industrial chemical companies).

https://kathmandupost.com/climate-environment/2019/11/08/pollution-from-india-unlikely-to-reach-kathmandu-but-nepal-needs-to-deal-with-its-own-toxic-air

As he was telling me this I wondered about what the health consequences of eating these normally healthy plants. How would eating PCB’s for example affect my hormones?

I will say that many of the crops grown today (throughout the world) are grown on floodplains.

According to Wikipedia, a floodplain is ” an area of land adjacent to a river which stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls, and which experiences flooding during periods of high discharge.”

This means that many of our commercial vegetables that we find in our grocery store (even if organic) could contain contaminates because of the water being used to grown them. After all industrial pollution isn’t an isolated event, and is a leading killer in many countries.

https://nwtreatytribes.org/state-watersheds-nooksack-floodplains-far-salmon-recovery-plan-goal/

Conservation

By John Lynch. Copyright © 2022 New England Wild Flower Society. 

The picture above is the ripened fruits of the wild leek. Arthur said that if you were going to harvest the entire plant, that he would plant last year’s fruit into the dug up hole to make sure that the plant would regrow. To dig up the entire plant, you could use a digging stick, like the picture below which has been used for millennia to harvest underground foods.

https://www.nps.gov/

Arthur ended the discussion with our group by saying unlike the bulbs, the leaves the research says “were free of contaminates”! I was excited because I knew was safe to eat this delicious green wild vegetable. I wiped the sweat off my face because we had just finished stuffing our pack baskets with leaves to bring home. At lunch he brought out local meats and cheeses and we certaintly enjoyed our time.

Phytochemistry

There are several studies that I will cite below that demonstrate Allium tricoccum Ait. and it’s relatives potent and medicinal phytochemistry.

1) In 2017, a study called “Allium schoenoprasum L.: a review of phytochemistry, pharmacology and future direction” examined the medicinal values of chives. In the abstract of the paper, it reads “scientific evaluation of chives validates its traditional claims and demonstrates diverse pharmacological potential including an anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, anthelmintic and antihypertensive.”

https://www.slideserve.com/banagher/phenols

2) In 2013, a study called “Allium ursinum: botanical, phytochemical and pharmacological overview” dove deep into the phytochemicals that specifically offer many of the medicinal value. Some of the compounds found useful are the sulfur and phenolic compounds.

Ethnobotany

The North American Ethnobotanical Database say that the Ojibwe, Iroquois, Menominee, Chippewa, and Cherokee have and probably still do use Allium tricoccum Ait. as a drug, and as a food in many different forms.

Closing

All in all, wild leek offers us many teachings about conservation, medicine, and food. I hope someday soon you may all get to taste the wonderful properties of wild leek and – when you do – remember the stories behind the forest-loving plant.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out. Thanks for reading! 

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Edible Plants of New York: Why does stinging nettle cost so much money?

GoBotany

Stinging-nettle is one of the funniest plants alive. It’s hairs are a deterrent to many creatures (including humans). However, when you get to know and respect this nutritious plant, you’ll be eager and ready to harvest stinging-nettle. Watch my video from today to see this plant from my perspective.

A great resource to learn more about local plants in northeast North America, is GoBotany! Here is some ways that the organization describes stinging-nettle:

Latin name: Uritca dioica – stinging nettle

Facts: “Stinging nettle occurs in New England as two subspecies, one (Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis) is native, while the other (U. dioica ssp. dioica) is introduced. The native species can be recognized in that male and female flowers appear on a single plant (monoecious), and the plant has only sparse stinging hairs, especially on the stem. The native stinging nettle was considered an important medicinal plant by Native Americans.”

What’s a subspecies?

Do you remember the article I wrote on violets? Well, there I talked about how scientists classify life, and especially with regards to this article, plants. As GoBotany noted, in eastern North America, we have two species of Urtica dioica. The two cannot reproduce with each-other. Collectively, the family of Urticaceae, in which stinging-nettle belongs, contains about 2,625 different species!

Habitat: “Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), floodplain (river or stream floodplains), forest edges, forests, shores of rivers or lakes”


Characteristics:

Leaf type: the leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)

Google

Leaf arrangement: opposite: there are two leaves per node along the stem

Google

Leaf blade edges: the edge of the leaf blade has teeth

Google

Let’s eat!

Cuisine: There are many ways to enjoy this plant. They include drying the plant for tea, blanching the plant and eating it like spinach (drink the water!), making pesto, powdering the leaf and making capsules, and finally using the root (technically a rhizome) to make a tincture. There are of course more ways of using this plants (including making clothing), but today i’m focusing on brining it into your kitchen.

Do you remember the Ertebølle culture that I wrote about in my article on garlic-mustard? Well, this Mesolithic culture is coming back up again in an article from 1999 called, “The plant food component of the diet at the late Mesolithic (Ertebolle) settlement at Tybrind Vig, Denmark”. Apparently between 5,300 B.C.E. — 3,950 B.C.E., the indigneous in Denmark were using stinging-nettle in their cooking!

In North America, the indigenous groups like the Haudenosaunee used the native nettle Laportea candensis or Canada wood-nettle as a food.

Flowers: Laportea canadensis.
By Arthur Haines. Copyright © 2022 Arthur Haines

History

According to Wikipedia, as “Old English stiðe, nettle is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in 10th century. Nettle was believed to be a galactagogue  – a substance that promotes lactation.

Urtication, or flogging with nettles is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin to provoke inflammation and can treat rheumatism.”

About a month ago, I wrote about my travels to the Amazon, Well, on my way to the rainforest, Twigs and I experienced an “Urtication” in one local market. Man, was that a fun experience. Seriously it was.

The International Journal of Unani and Integrative Medicine in 2018 published an article called, “Stinging Nettle: A herb with tremendous pharmacological potential” by Fatima et. al.

Phytochemistry


The abstract reads, “Urtica dioica L. commonly known as ‘stinging nettle’ is a perennial herb which belongs to the family Urticaceae. The plant is called Stinging Nettle because its leaves and stems contain hairs (trichomes) filled with a fluid that give severe sting when it comes in contact with the body. This herb is found in
many South Asian Countries, Indian subcontinent and has been known in the world as a medicinal herb for a long time.”

It goes on to say, “The species has been a subject of recent scientific interest and product development all over due to its traditional usage as food, fibre and medicine. U. dioica is widely used by the traditional medicinal practitioners for curing various diseases such as nephritis, haematuria, jaundice, menorrhagia, arthritis and rheumatism. Phytochemical studies revealed the presence of many valuable chemical compounds like phytosterols, saponins, flavanoids, tannins, proteins, minerals and amino acids.”

Google


Finally, the abstract reads, “U. dioica has been reported to have various pharmacological activities like antibacterial, antioxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, immunomodulatory, hepatoprotective, anti-colitis and anticancer effects. This paper aims to review and interpret up-to-date and comprehensive information regarding nutrition and health benefits, phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology of stinging nettle.”


What’s Next?


In conclusion, this is one of my go-to plants throughout the year. In the Spring, I harvest the leaves for tea and as a vegetable. In the Fall, I harvest the root, for making medicine. You won’t be able to over harvest this plant, so it lends itself to be called a staple food. Please forage responsibly, honorably, and sovereignly.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out. Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in buying stinging-nettle root as a tincture, email me at lionmanconsulting@protonmail.com, and will send you a bottle.

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Edible Plants of New York: Why violets are more nutritious than spinach 

GoBotany

Wild plants are some of the most exciting foods to eat. They are free, nutrient-dense, and fun to gather. In particular during the late spring, leafy greens and flowers are on the menu.

Have you ever eaten from a place other than a grocery store, a restaurant, or a deli? Do you know who your gardener, farmer, or forager are? I do!

It’s my hope that you will soon feel empowered to find out that your forests, fields, and wetlands will and always be your grocery store too.

Why is it important to forage?

One of the reasons I believe foraging is great, is because it offers us a chance to eat different kinds of foods.

Wild plants contain a host of unique natural chemicals, fiber, and stimulating compounds that are defiantly worth looking into. This is one reason why the natural supplement industry is growing so rapidly. It’s because people are waking up to the fact that wild, or organically-grown plants and mushrooms have the power to impact our bodies in a good way.

It’s the way that these wild organisms live, that make them so delicious and nutritious. In short, they have to survive harsh conditions sometimes, and this make resilient!

To know more about the plant we are about to talk about, I would like to touch briefly upon some scientific terms.

What is a species?

According to Wikipedia, “A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction.”

From Wikipedia

Are violets a species?

Here in New York, a common species is Viola odorata (seen below). “Viola” is technically the genus, and “odorata” is the species name. Violets are in the Violaceae family.

According to our friends at GoBotany, there are thirty or so species of violets living in New England, and 1,000 of them globally.

Viola odorata can be found in “anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), meadows and fields”.

GoBotany

How do you eat violets?

I enjoy eating the young leaves and the flowers of violet. In particular, i’ve been picking the youngest leaves and putting them in my smoothie! Check out my youtube channel to learn more.

What does violet’s nutrient profile look like?

Thomas Zennie and Dwayne Ogzewalla in 1977 compared the Vitamin C and ProVitamin A levels of wild plants in Oho. They found that violet leaves had up to 20,000 Units of ProVitamin A/100 g, and 264 Units of Ascorbic Acid/100g.

They then compared the number 20,000 and 264 with the following data form “common garden fruit and vegetables”.

Do you notice any differences in these cultivated vegetables?

Not one of these common vegetables in the above table even comes close to the previous mentioned violet. It wasn’t clear whether these cultivated plants were produced organically. It’s my inkling however that these wild plants would still beat out the cultivated varieties.

What are the medicinal and traditional benefits of consuming violet?

In a one study, called the “Effect of the Aqueous and Hydro Alcoholic Extracts of Viola odorata L. on Biochemical and Histologic Liver Parameters in Diabetic Wistar Rats”, the researchers said, “According to our results, the concentrations of 100 mg/kg of the aqueous and hydro-alcoholic extracts of violet significantly decreased the number of Kupffer cells. Additionally, 100 and 400 mg/kg of the aqueous extract significantly decreased inflammatory accumulations.”

Many indigenous groups have been documented to eat violets as well. According to the North American Ethnobotanical Database, the Blackfoot use the plant as a pediatric aid. In particular, they find that this plant helps with respiratory ailments.

What’s next?

I would encourage you all to go out tomorrow and look for this plant. It may just be growing naturally right outside your front door.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out to me at lionmanconsuting@protonmail.com. Check out our new website too!

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Edible Plants of New York: Why I think garlic-mustard is one of the best underestimated superfoods


Garlic-mustard is one of my favorite plants. A great resource to learn more about local plants in northeast North America, is GoBotany! Here is some ways that the organization describes garlic-mustard:

Latin name: Alliaria petiolata (Bieb.) Cavara & Grande

Facts: Garlic-mustard is an invasive species originating in Eurasia and rapidly spreading through much of North America. It was originally imported in the nineteenth century as a kitchen garden herb and salad green. The leaves, which have a sharp, garlic-like flavor, can be eaten raw or boiled. It is most aggressive in roadsides and shady, moist, rich forests, and may form dense colonies.

Habitat: Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), floodplain (river or stream floodplains), forest edges, forests

Flower petal color: white

Leaf type: the leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)

Beyond describing the plant in this way, i’ll share with you how I consume garlic-mustard. Two ways I enjoy eating garlic-mustard is in smoothies and in pesto.

In smoothies, I’ll gather the greens and place them into the blender. I add coconut milk, wild blueberries, green bananas, more herbs, olive oil, almond butter, etc,.

In pesto, one needs only to replace the cultivated garlic clove (technically a bulb) with a large handful of garlic-mustard leaves. All parts of the plant are edible, so feel free to add in the stem and the flowers!

Moving on, according to Hayley et. al, in their 2013 paper, called “Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine”, there is evidence found in the pottery of the Late Mesolithic Ertebølle culture and the Early Neolithic Funnel Beaker culture.

The Ertebølle culture comes the southern Scandavia area, in the time period of 5,300 B.C.E. — 3,950 B.C.E. The Mesolithic is a time period where agriculture generally wasn’t developed yet. People in the Ertebølle culture were mainly hunter-gatherer’s and fishing people. I find it validating that these people were cooking garlic-mustard over 5,000 years ago.

Finding any information on Google Scholar about the health benefits of garlic-mustard is a challenge, given the bias and rhetoric around calling this plant an “invasive”.

However, we know that plants in the Brassicaceae family (and garlic-mustard is in it) are full of anti-cancer compounds. Go ahead and look for yourself!

I was able to find from Plants for a Future, a description of the other benefits of garlic-mustard:

“The leaves and stems are antiasthmatic, antiscorbutic, antiseptic, deobstruent, diaphoretic, vermifuge and vulnerary.”

This all means that it can help your respiratory system, can prevent scurvy, has anti-microbial activity, has a laxative effect, can expel worms from your body, and helps your veins!

In conclusion, I love this plant! I think it offers us a stark contrast of what we’re taught by modern society about what’s safe, healthy, and affordable. By interacting with the plants like garlic-mustard, we can go into our local woods and find food, medicine, and enjoyment! We don’t have to rush to the grocery store or even a local farm for some of our staples.

I think it’s now modern and cool to forage! Please do responsibly and in sovereignty.

If you have any more questions about this plant, please reach out. Give our new video a watch as well. Thanks for reading!

Photo from Wikipedia


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Why I Traveled to the Amazon in 2017

Twigs and I decided that we needed to a break, and we wanted to experience some of the last, untouched tribes in the world. Twigs loved researching, so he soon got back to me with news!

“I found them! ” I recalled him saying in a paradoxically relaxed tone.

“We’re going to visit the Achuar people. They live deep in Ecuadorian rainforest.”

I nodded my head. I was ready. It was December, 2017 and I soon found myself in a passenger airplane, taking off from the city of Macas, Ecuador.

As we flew in the air all I could see was a sea of forest, in all directions. I was at home!

Our guide, Muchelala jumped out of the plane after it landed, and onto the grassy runway. I remember the baking sun, and a friendly black dog running towards us.

We got our stuff and were settled in a mosquito protected tent, and began to relax. Of the next few days, Twigs and I would laugh about our new life here.

“Where was all the action?”

“Why are we just hanging out all day?” I exclaimed one morning. We had nothing left to do! We had already swam in the river, eaten catfish and yucca for lunch, and had bananas for a snack.

What was left? Well, we had to play with the dogs, hang out in the hammock, read Stephen Buhner’s book on plant intelligence, and of course drink the famous chicha.

You might ask, “What’s chicha?”

Well readers, it is the most incredible drink in the world!

This is how it’s made. All of the women, young and old, would head out each day to the yucca (also known as cassava) patch nearby to gather these tubers. They had these awesome baskets that they would throw over their backs, and rest on their foreheads.

With their baskets full, they’d return to tend to the fire. The fire was somehow always alive. To do this, they had a simple system of laying three logs, in a triangular fashion, with the embers in the middle of them. When they needed the fire to increase, one would simply need to push the logs into a tighter triangular.

The next thing the women did was to fill their pot with water at the river. Then, they would boil the water and let the yucca simmer for about an hour. The women would then pour off the hot water, and place the yucca into a wooden container that looked like a canoe (for a child). They would take a large handful of the cooked yucca and start chewing, while at the same time, begin to mash the yucca with a large wooden pestle. After a few good chews, in would go the chewed up watery mix.

It would take a few days to be ready. With the heat of jungle, the drink would soon be bubbly, and good to serve to the family. This is what we mainly drank! I became used to it over time. Think of it like a combination of kombucha, kefir, and coconut yogurt, but with lots of chunks.

In conclusion, I learned that the Achuar people weren’t “barbaric” or “lost”. They were found, and do currently live a peaceful and prosperous life in their large forest. These people weren’t untouched by the burden of modern society, and have benefitted from their contact with outsiders.

There are many more stories of our adventures in the Amazon jungle, alongside these amazing and kind people. Perhaps soon I will share more. For now, I leave you with the following quote.

“The world’s most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization.”
― Marshall Sahlins

Thanks so much for reading.


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