NUT IN POCKET
“Weedeater” column by Nance Klehm
Illustration by Makeswell
Art direction by Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington
Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 31 (Oct. 2008)
Out there, out of doors, it’s between leaf and root time. It’s seed time. In autumn, plants put their efforts into reproducing themselves via seeds, both bare and covered with delicious flesh. Right now it’s time to collect these offspring—juicy apples and pears for cider, seeds to grow next year’s harvest with, and nuts and berries to make healing infusions from.
Here are some seeds to collect before winter settles in:
kentucky coffeetree seeds
lamb’s quarters seeds
queen anne’s lace
yellow dock seeds
pears and apples (for cider…)
Each of these seeds has practical medicinal uses, which you can research on your own. But if you want the full-on benefit from the plants you decide to put in your body, you have to allow the plants to help you.
Long infusions, which are like concentrates, are an easy way to allow plants to do their work on you. You don’t need to use bagged herbal tea or other plant materials from a store to make an infusion. Nor do you have to buy it in bulk. Instead, you can forage, gathering plants that grow wild in our cities.
When you collect from a plant, do it on a dry day. Try to find more than a few and collect from them in a way that won’t damage them. Don’t rip or tear; instead, make clean pinches or cuts with a knife, your fingers or some pruning shears. Take only a few leaves/seeds/fruits—no more than 10% of any individual plant—as it is important that the plant you are collecting from is allowed to thrive and regenerate itself, even if it is considered a ‘weed.’ Plants are generous by nature with what they have to offer. When you are done, thank the plant. Maybe give it a drink from your water bottle. Because that plant is going to help set your liver or blood or mental attitude right. And that is pretty generous of it.
HOT & COLD
When you return home, dry the plant material in paper bags. Drying medicinal weeds is all about allowing air to circulate around the leaves and protecting them from light. Paper bags are perfect for this as they will not trap moisture. Don’t put too much material in any single bag—remember, the air has to be allowed to circulate. I like hanging them upside down in small bundles in my dark and dry pantry, but that’s just me.
When you’re ready to make an infusion, grab a healthy (no pun intended) handful of dried herb and put it in a quart glass jar. Glass is a must—it is stable and neutral. Now pour hot water over it all, until full, and screw on the lid. You use a lid so the volatile oils stay in the brew instead of being released into the air. Of course, that aroma can be enjoyable and part of healing, and will have your home or office smelling terrific.
Let it brew for at least 30 minutes to as long as several hours. You will need to do some research here. Some plant materials have chemical compounds and minerals that require a longer steeping time to get them to release into water. Roots and bark are two examples of this, but certain leaves fit this bill too.
Also, some plants require cold water instead of hot water. Seeds and fruits, for example, require cold water. I also usually steep these longer, often setting my jar up the night before, having a nice sleep while my infusion makes itself and then waking the next day to drink it at room temperature or warming it up with a low flame (stay away from that microwave, yuck!) or even drinking it iced.
WHERE DID I PUT THAT NUT?
Two years ago I was driving across country and stopped at a Piggly Wiggly to pick up some snacks for the road. I grabbed some yogurt, some chocolate and I was looking for nuts. And I couldn’t find them. I found the stock guy and asked him, ‘Hey, where can I find the nuts?’ and he replied, ‘Peanuts or Donuts?’ I paused waiting for some faint uncontrollable twitching or the slow crack of a grin. His face was blank. He was waiting for me to answer him. Stunned, I thanked him and left the store.
Who am I kidding? This happened on the northwest side of Chicago. People in Kentucky know what nuts are and where they keep them.
SQUIRREL IT AWAY
Every animal forages and every one of them aids in dispersing plants’ seeds. Scratching the soil, knocking into them, eating them and pooping them out, carrying them stuck on their fur or muddy paws or webbed feet across long distances, animals inadvertently—or as is the case with a few animals, intentionally—plant them elsewhere. We humans have been carrying seeds around for thousands of years as we’ve wandered around and set up camp in different places. Wind, jetstreams, rivers and oceans help spread seeds widely too. That’s why there are so many weeds.
Squirrels forage, endlessly, their squirrel energy seeming to vibrate just below that of insects. But what seems like erratic, twitchy behavior to us is probably just the squirrel reading the environment with their bodies faster, or perhaps more honestly, than we can.
Squirrels are great collectors but rotten archivists. They find and carry around acorns, walnuts, hazelnuts, tucking them into the earth. They do it quickly, furiously sussing out a place then scratching, fuddling and putting a nut in place and patting down the soil again in less than a minute. Later in winter, when they get the nibbles, they may not be able to find every last nut they sequestered. But that doesn’t matter. What’s lost by one squirrel is found by another. Or, if never found, the nut springs up as a tree seedling, which grows into a tree that the squirrel can nest in and chatter from…and which, in turn, will produce nuts for future haphazard storage, snacks or, again, future trees.
So, if you can, find a nut tree or shrub and gently pick off a nut. Chestnuts, buckeyes, oaks and walnuts are common in parks and on streets in urban areas. Select one to act as a temporary talisman and carry it in your pocket like a battery. Travel or walk around with it for a day, just to feel its potential. Keep it in there until you are ready to release it into the earth.
Know that when you release it, you are activating it. You are ensuring a future store of nuts, providing shade and squirrel habitat, growing material to construct a ship from, and starting that forest that we all miss in our hearts…
Got nut, in pocket
Got a walnut and I’m going to use it
Intention I feel inventive
Gonna make you, make you, make you notice
You’ve probably heard a story about someone’s apple juice bottle exploding. That’s a sure sign the yeasties have settled in and set up shop. Well, making cider is actually as easy at that: all you have to do find some decent fruit or juice to start with, and the yeasties, feeding on the nice fruit juice sugar, will do the rest.
If you can’t get your hands on enough apples or pears from city streets or backyards, pick some up at the farmers’ market and juice them, or just buy already pressed cider without preservatives (as we don’t want to preserve anything—we want it to transform itself.) Allow the bottled juice to sit out on a table, uncapped, and breathe. Cover the bottle neck with a wash cloth. Sip periodically to taste and ascertain where those yeasts are in their work. You’ll know it’s ready when it tastes good to you. Depending on the temperature of your abode, you will have something mild and nice within 5-7 days.
Once you get what you like, drink it up. (You can toss the sediment in your compost pile or use it in a soup—it’s free B vitamins.) You can put the juice in the fridge to slow the fermentation process down, or in the freezer to stop it altogether. You can wake the yeasts up again by bringing them to room temperature. And don’t worry—if you do happen to let the yeasties work overtime, your cider will become something else you can use: vinegar. Now you can make some pickles…