mercredi 31 mars 2010

Tapping Birch Sap

The beginning of spring is the time to harvest Birch sap, this winter was a long a particularly hard one here in France. I visited the birch wood a couple of times to find that there was no upward moving sap at all. Finally, three weeks later than last year the sap flowed. I had left a bottle ready hanging on one of the birch trees the last time I had visited the forest, so when Romain and I arrived we were greeted by a full bottle of birch sap. What a pleasure to drink this springtime offering from nature amongst the trees themselves.
In order to successfully tap the sap, there are surely many different methods but the one we use is as follows, drill a hole into the tree preferably with a small, hand drill, the hole should be a couple of cm's deep and directed slightly upwards (in order to help the flow of sap). If the sap is flowing, you will quickly notice some moisture forming, followed by drops of clear sap. Put a straw in the hole, tie a bottle around the tree with the straw inside and hey in fact not hey presto as it takes some time to fill the bottle, I usually leave them for 24 hours but it can take slightly longer depending on the speed of the sap flow. Do not forget to fill the hole with a stick the right size when you have finished so that the tree doesn't loose all its sap for nothing.
I have read that all birch trees can be tapped and I have also read that certain have a bitter flavour, the birches we have here in our little forest are Betula pendula or silver birch and as I have not tried any others I cannot make the comparison. All I can say is that the Betula pendula produces a fresh, slightly sugary and very tasty sap .
Why tap birch trees in spring you may ask...... well the cleansing and strengthening properties are very useful after a long winter, flushing out built-up toxins and helping in cases of rheumatism, gout, skin diseases and urinary tract problems....not bad eh!
A small glassful the morning for 7 days is a great way to spring clean a clogged up metabolism.
Be careful because birch sap is not a product that keeps for long, keep it in the fridge and consume within 3 or 4 days. It freezes well but freezing will change its molecular structure, so there is the question of whether this change also changes its properties. I personally like to use it fresh from the tree as a once yearly ritual, I connect with nature, from the inside...thanks to these wonderful trees. The symbolism of regeneration linked to the birch is very ancient, the Germanic/Scandinavian rune Berkana or birch represents re-birth, surely linked to this magical substance that flows from the earth through the birch itself and brings new life in the form of the awakening of spring.

lundi 29 mars 2010

Plant of the week - Sweet Violet

Viola odorata, member of the Violaceae family. There are many different violets but the one that really interests us for it's medicinal qualities is the sweet violet with its well-known, very individual scent. It is a small plant with oval,heart shaped leaves, 5 separate, irregular petals, the lower one is elongated at it's base by a long, hollow spur. The 5 stamens have very short filaments, when mature the ovary gives a dry fruit with three valves.
Violets are one of our early spring flowers, they often grow on the outskirts of woods, under hedges in fact they can be found all over the place.
In herbal medicine, we use both the flowers and the leaves, although we pick the flowers first and return for the leaves after the flowering period is finished. Violets are a gentle herb containing no dangerous substances. The mucilage that they contain make them a good pectoral remedy in a herbal tea mix, especially with dry coughs, when expectoration needs to be increased, also useful for colds and in cases of bronchitis. Many herbal books mention a violet syrup for coughs, I haven,t tried it yet so can not really say much about it, except if anyone has experimented with violet syrup ....let's hear about it.
The leaves have similar properties as the flowers but are more often used in internal inflammations (Digestive tract), talking of which their use in cases of constipation is quite common. Externally they are work well on the skin for irritations and eruptions.

jeudi 18 mars 2010

First signs of spring

In the woods today, the first flowers of spring have started to show their faces, Anemonee neorosa.L,Ranunculus ficaria and last but by no means least a beautiful clump of wild snowdrops, Galanthis nivalis. Wild wnowdrops are'semi-protected' here in France, you can pick the odd flower but it is illegal to dig up the bulbs.....goes without saying really.

vendredi 12 mars 2010

Back in France : Medicinal Plant of the week.

The plant of the week is Stellaria media or common chickweed(Caryophylaceae), it is in flower underneath the cherry trees in the garden even though the temperatures have been -6 in the mornings this week.
It is the fresh plant that is used for both medicinal and culinary uses. The young shoots and flowering tops are collected at the begining of the flowering period.
This is a very good wild salad, tasty and not at all bitter, containing a decent amount of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and silice.
In terms of medicinal uses, it can be used fresh in a herbal tea or made into a tincture by seeping it in alcohol for a month before filtering. It's nourishing qualities make it a good plant for convalescence, Mathew wood (author of "The Earthwise Herbal") states that this nutritive force is this plants most important quality, it actually helps in the assimilation of nutrients.It is also a cooling plant, often growing in dampish, shady places, under trees for example It's cooling qualities can be used externally for skin problems such as boils, rashes, eczema etc and internally for all sorts of inflamations. It it also a plant linked to water, it acts on the liquids of the body, decongesting the lymphatic system, it is diuretic in terms of the kidneys and generally helps to balance the bodies water content.

dimanche 7 mars 2010

Photo gallery of South American flora that I haven't yet identified, suggestions welcomed!!

These three photos of blue flowers were taken in the area around Sorata in Bolivia (2400 metres). The first photo is a convolvulus commonly known as bindweed or mornng glory, there are over 250 varieties and I do not know exactly which one this is. The second photo looks like a Liliaceae, I think it is a wild iris from the Limniris subgenus, which means that they do not have bearded sepals.

This spiky plant is an Adesmia spinosissima, a native to Chile from the region between Santiago and Copiapo.

Perhaps a Liliaceae?

Looks like a violaceae to me?

This yellow flower with it's strangely formed flowers was photographed around lake Titicaca at an altitide of about 3800 metres.

Blue flower taken in the Pisqou-Elqui Valley, Chile.
Orange flower is a Alstroemaria aurantiaca from the Amaryllidacaea family, commonly known as the Inca's Lilly.

Tiny bush growing on altiplano, Bolivia.

Photo is a bit blurry, this plant was growing around lake Titicaca I think this is a Gentiana, but which one? Growing around Lake Titicaca, Peru at an altitude of 3800 metres

I photographed this flower high up in the sandy hills above Potosiin Bolivia (4800 meters), most proberly an Asteraceae looking at its involucre.