Haskaps and Seabuckthorn

This is a feature for a couple ‘superfoods’ that I have been working with and learning more about in the past 4 months or so, and it’s been awhile since I had a write up for any of the ethno-botanical foods in my habitat, that I frequented more in my domestic years, so this one is about two different berries that I have come to use in my diet, and for my hygeine and health, that I will share some inside information about.

Haskaps a.k.a. blue honeysuckle, or honeyberry is are genetically native to Russia and Japan, and grow in a pretty varied basket of cultivars. The Ainu persons of Japan have used this berry for a long time, and gave it the name. It’s relatively new on North American shelves but some health food distros may have some. It is amped with more potassium, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin C, iron and phosphorous than apples, oranges, grapes and blueberries, and the energy kcal is more potent, so I like to have them with a thick porridge in the morning, or neat as a juice. They are extremely high in anti-oxidants and other flavonoids like Ferulic acid, Caffeic Acid, Ellagitannins, and Quercetin. They mash into some pretty sweet jams and chutneys, and distill to make strong gin or vodka, they can be sundried or frozen, and they survive harsh winters, while blooming in -10. They can also be grown from culture. If you can find a Japanese grocery store, you could find some Haskaps, and they are even more creative with their products.

Seabuckthorn a.k.a. Seaberries are a shrub grown mostly throughout Scandinavia, Siberia, Germany, Tibet and coastal Maritimes. They can only be harvested every two years. This one is making ground in the U.S. as a permaculture crop. They can tolerate salt in the air or soil! and grow well in sandy areas like beaches. They used to be a remedy for horses by their soliders for weight gain, and for coat health. It is one of the only berry plants that have protein in the leaves, and also stocks a fair amount of fiber, carotenids, amino acids, and vitamins. It has natural sugar alcohols, so there is potential for wine or moonshine stilling. The oils are skin medicine, and the berry is high in plant sterols. It is also a nitrogen fixer, and has strong roots for soil strength. It can survive arctic temperatures, and harvest comes right before the winter freeze. They can repair blood and metabolism problems, as well as caridiac and pulmonary issues. The pressed berries when put in a jar separates in three layers, each layer serves a different purpose. The top layer of orange cream for skin treatment, the middle layer for edibles because it is high in unsaturated fats, and the bottom for juice. The berries are quite sour when raw, but there is a process called ‘bletting’ which is frosting them to reduce their astringent flavor. They can be malolactically fermented to sweeten them which changes the alchemy of the acid. The cream from the berry even protects astronauts from radiation, so why not use it here down on earth, where in our toxic world, we need any natural medicines we can use. I live near an abandoned sea buckthorn farm, one of few in the west, but unfortunately it is still too early for me to reap the fruits.

:Black Wing Apothecary: + The West Texas Winds

I recently met my medicine woman, Madera Gray down in Big Spring Texas. A land I came to know as a place of pump jacks, wind turbines, stray chihuahua dogs, and western winds, but came to love as the place of desert, desolation, and outlander camping. We communed at New Mexico to spend a day in the Lincoln National Forest. A vast woodland that is almost entirely hidden behind the hills and bluffs of this small Western town. Sleeping and living primitively for a night under the stars, with only a fire and each others heat to warm us through the dark night. It became quite an awe-filled experience, and a major transition in both of our trailways through life. On the return to Texas, we stopped in the one street ghost town where Billy the Kid was shot. We both got our tramping boots, and I think buying them has become steeped in some pretty thick metaphor for us both. Some unforeseen circumstances steered us towards staying at Moss Lake, where we encamped for about 10 days, eating buck almost nightly cooked in the fire, making homemade spears and carving tools, swimming in the seemingly lifeless lake, listening to outlaw country music, and generally doing things that would probably warrant us to be kicked out, but all in good spirits.

I had traveled from California to be with her, and became stranded in Arizona at a truckstop. A nice gypsy woman was kind to let me stay the night in her van, and sent me off with a couple dollars for my way. I met with a far met lady friend for a walk in the Arizona desert before heading off from the stop alas. I had come firstly to be in the company of my lover, my coyotess I referred to her. Our wyrd took its course from there, and during our time at the lake, Madera and I worked diligently to get her van, which is actually a repurposes ambulance, and transform it into her apothecary store/living space/gypsy wagon. We painted it black

Black Wing Apothecary is the creation of Madera Gray, a West Texas gypsy woman, who lives often out of her old ‘eighties ambulance medicine van. She met her medicine man (me, the author), in a forest in New Mexico, and she has taught some of her ways. We are now collaborating to give back some of our gifts to those with open hearts, and open minds. A statement about the apothecary from Madera:

“I first started this business three years ago in Phoenix Arizona while doing some work for the Arizona Cannabis Society. I had been studying the effects of herbs and whole foods on the body and had many friends coming up with hormone related health issues. They were all fed up with doctor visits raising fear and more questions than answers, and had decided to take responsibility for their own health and reclaim control of their own bodies. We shared information and used ourselves as “lab rats” until we all came to the same conclusion: our environment was the issue, not our health. I have since eliminated MANY unnecessary chemicals such as detergents, fluoride, plastics, petroleum byproducts, growth hormones, and processed foods. I have not needed a doctor for my chronic condition in three years and do not take any over-the-counter or prescription medicine. I live clean, free, organic, and would like to share my health with the world.

Black Wing Apothecary provides handmade, one of a kind costumes, accessories, ritual tools, and natural cosmetics geared towards free thinking individuals, and aims to reintroduce the lost knowledge of herbal lore, and to share in the art of handcrafting from natural, recycled, and repurposed materials in order to reclaim a free and organic life”

Amongst the materials and products that come from Black Wing are;
Laundry soap, air freshener, carpet freshener, dish soap, bathroom cleaner, bath minerals, bath oils, hair shine, perfume (oils and sprays) herbal tinctures, medicine pouches (usually from various pelts. I buy/trade local, naturally cured, ethically obtained pelts only. Some seasons I will have shortages, as it is not easy to obtain these things ethically sometimes and I don’t compromise morals for money), costumes, jewelry and various ritual tools- rattles, wind chimes, staffs, wands, incense burners etc, depending on acquired materials.

My role in the apothecary is as a medicine man or shaman. I have done some healing on different individuals over the past two years, and my first under the Black Wing moniker while living in a tree planting camp. My focus to begin will be on hand collected incense, magic tincture making, craft, and animal based art. This is a project worthy of support, we are both against mainstream pharmaceuticals, factory farming, fracking, and monoculture. Black Wing Apothecary carries a message of ATWA, and a truth preserved through indigenous tradition.

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Botany Unbound 5: Paleolithic Organisms

559111_323208877782656_1394114429_nTinder Conk white variation (Fomes fomentarius) is shaped like a hoof and used to carry an ember in a hole in the mushroom. Man in the stone age used this, also called Horse hoof fungus to transport a spark to make fires. By shaving off small fibers, it is supreme at holding one of the less hot red sparks created by smashing a flint against rock. Ötzi, the well-preserved 5,000 year old “ice man” found in the Alps near the Austrian-Italian border, was carrying a pouch with Tinder Conk along with pieces of flint and iron pyrite. If you soak them and pound it down, it transforms into a mass of felt like fibers for sewing, shaping, and making fabric. It is a primitive medicinal fungus used for wound cauterization, antibiotic, antivirus/bacteria and to stop bleeding. It is a parasite as well as decomposer to trees. The first description given of this fungus was by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum. The pores are at the bottom, thousands of them, and if you could see microscopically, there would be a forest that looks full of lemon-yellow smoke coming from the bottom of these. One way to know it is specifically this species is by slicing off a piece of the upper body, and putting a drop of potassium hydroxide on it. It will turn dark blood red in color. It is is found now in N and S Africa, Asia, E North America and Europe. It grows on over 13 different trees; maple, lime, oak, beech, birch, poplar, willow, alder hornbeam, sycamore, cherry, hickory, and conifers.
It is the oldest-known biological product used by Paleolithic humans and have been found at Stone Age sites.

Botany Unbound Part 4: Edibles in the Forest

Giant Puffball Mushroom (Calvatia Gigantea)800px-Puffball_Mushrooms_On_Sale

547084_256421097794768_113949131_nThe immature puffballs are all edible but after the spores are created, they are harder to digest. One can tell by slicing open the mushrooms flesh and observing the color. It must be white, not yellow faded. You can fry them or cook them, or bread them and they have the consistency of melted cheese afterwards. It can be frozen afterwards. They are sold regularly in England, but shouldn’t be confused with the (Earthball mushrooms Scleroderma citrinum). It has no stem, but rooted down with mycelial strands, and has a dark gleba and ochre skin. I have found these on two different occasions when hiking. The first one I seen was larger than my head yet hardly weighed more than a couple handfuls of soil.

Canada Buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis)13

The plant gets its name from Chinook language. A desert is made 399721_263005003803044_960930049_nfrom the crushed berries which have saponin inside them. An equal amount of water is added to the liquid that is extracted and whipped into a foam. It is consumed by natives of the Pacific Northwest in large gatherings, and called Sxusem or Indian Ice Cream. Camas or Fireweed are added to balance the bitter taste. It grows in North America but not beyond the Arctic circle. Early next spring, I am going to collect some of the berries and make a recipe with them.


Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

This one is a pioneer species, and tends towards being replenished in the land before other plants after fire or felling. The stems can be peeled and eaten raw, and have some essential vitamins. It thrives best in the Alpine regions. In Alaska, the Dena’ina tribes add it to the dog food. Syrups and jams are made from the flowers,  and spicey honey from the nectar. The leaves are the ingredient in Kapor Tea in the west.

Botany Unbound Part 3: Toxicity ov Plantae

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)418331_254107984692746_569940138_n

From the Solanaceae, a rather varied family of plants, sometimes breeding the nootropics, sometimes just the opposite. It is rarely touched by animals. The chemicals Solanine come from the unripe fruits, and Solasodine from flowers, and Beta-Solamarine from the roots. The former of these is the one that is poisonous to humans. Purging, burning of the throat, dysrhythmia, headache, dizziness, hallucinations, loss of sensation, paralysis, dilated pupils, hypothermia and in rare times death have been caused from consumption. It is a vine that climbs over other species and grows in many ecosystems like marshes, woods, shrubs, and scrubland.

Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

When you slit the stems of this plant, it drips out a milky substance that has latex, alkaloids, and cardenolides, these are narcotic. They are coated with wax and small hairs that also prevent caterpillars from eating them. Inside the sticky juice is cardiac glycoside, which inhibits special animals cells from functioning properly. It would cause death if an animal were to eat 10% of it’s own weight in milkweed. African indians made darts with the chemicals on the spearheads to help with the hunting ritual. There are at least 39 different species of the milkweed; (Pallid, Mead, Mojave,  Serpentine, Horst-Tail, Indian Paintbrush)



Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

An overdose of foxglove results in anorexia, sickly jaundice, breath shortness, headache and blurry halo vision. It has been cultivated by herbalists ever since they found out it could control the human pulse, thus brought into pharmaceuticals. The whole thing however is toxic to humans, felines, canines, cattle and other livestock. But it sometimes is confused with comfrey, a common tea. Digoxigenin is found in the flowers, which is a natural steroid.


Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum)

tumblr_m2fzfq5zpc1romrx1o1_500Also of the Solanaceae clan, sometimes I think this family has an here-to unknown social intelligence and waxen plans to inflict suffering to all botanists who harvest and use them. It is steeped in lore, and even found in the lyrics of metal bands. In the mythical texts “mandrake would only grow where the semen of a hanged man had dripped on to the ground; but scientifically, the mandrake is quite dangerous if used improperly or unless you are Chinese and find medicinal uses in everything! I acquired this from an occult shop that had it imported. It was stocked with the resins and incense but would probably cause breathing problems if I had burned it, so I keep it in a jar. The effects can be those of hypnosis, where alpha brain wave activity causes similar effects to REM or lucid dreams, but instead is insomnia inducing. In higher doses is makes the neophyte user go into delirium, hallucination, depression and sometimes coma. The three chemicals, found in many narcotics and psychadelics which are also in Mandrake are atropine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine. These are not very versatile and if their levels are imbalanced, are the cause of such potent physiological  effects.


Botany Unbound part 2: Ancestral ᛏᚱᛖᛖᛊ

These are about specifically important ancestral trees. They are those native born, steeped in myth and medicine and have been

cultivated  in the four corners of our mother terra. All of these are specifically important to me, and I wish to describe their value, both practical and natural. The biology/botanical jargon, their sometimes edibile purposes, the means of them used by tribes, the symbolism/totemic stature, and their beauty…


California Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) and Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpina)

:Called by the Concow tribe hö’-tä, the incense tree grows from Baja to the tip of Mexico in the west of North America is a host for the wood wasp (which is considered a living fossil species) to lay its eggs in the smouldering bark after a forest fire. It also is home to a parasitic type of mistletoe (Phoradendron libocedri) that can often be found hanging on its limbs. It is from the Cupressaceae and cultivated now in Great Britain. The wolf lichen grows in western/continental Europe, Pacific Northwest where I took this photo, and the Rocky Mountains. It was used as a dye and for making paint by indigenous people and the Achomawi tribes made poison darts from it.  The lichen contains a yellow pigment called vulpinic acid which is poisonous to mammals except mice and rabbits, and has been used for hunting foxes and wolves. The lichen was stuffed into deer carcasses with powdered glass. The glass would destroy the inside of animals organs and make the poison infused in their system. It was also used as a poultice by Plateau Indians for swelling, and drunk after boiled to stop bleeding. The Indians of the Klamath river soaked their porcupine quills in the extract and used them to weave baskets.

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
:From the Plantanacea family, and grows in the Eastern United States and southern Ontario/Quebec. It was brought from Europe in the 17th century but grew wildly in the Tertiary and Cretaceous periods in Greenland and Arctic America. The mottled exfoliating bark that resembles a natural camouflage. Growing to massive proportions of normally 40 metres. It survives transplanting, and therefore imported as an exotic species to many other countries. The leaves are a delicacy of the sycamore leaf beetle, unfortunately a pest to the tree. Agriculturists are considering using it as a biomass crop.


Pacific Redcedar (Thuja plicata)
:In the Cupressaceae family. The pollen and carbon dating give it a colonization birth of about 6600 years old, and was about half of the vegetation of the Fraser Valley for 500 years. It is riparian meaning it grows between land and a river/stream. A chemical called Thujaplicin is produced in mature trees is a natural fungicide. They can lie for up to 100 years after being felled or fallen without rotting. The wood is used to make beehives and kayaks in Europe and by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest for constructing totem poles and masks, and the roots for clothing. They also held this tree as a totem for their people because of their dependability on it. The oldest ever tree of this kind was sadly burned by vandals and fell to the ground creating ‘Giant’s Grave’. Artistic carved antlers (as tools) have been found be archaeologists 8000 years ago, which may have suggested the use of the tree by Indigenous people. They offered propitiation to the trees spirits when they were felled, as well as the surrounding trees.





Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
:In the Pinaceae family, it is the most vast species of tree in the Cascades and prominent in all forest types and soils. Its symbolism has become iconic as well for conservation and used in protest movements for the Cascadian Independance movement. The botanist who discovered has introduced this and many other species to Europe. It has attained heights of 120m. Native Hawaiians used to build waʻ kaulua (canoes) from the trees that drifted ashore. Also it has been used in mast building and boat construction because the growth rings are closer together, meaning the wood is stronger. It is a moth attractor, preyed on by the larvae of at least 5 species.



Willow (Salix)
:Hippocrates knew willow bark could ease pains and reduce fevers. It has long been used in Europe, China and Egypt. The bark is often macerated in ethanol to produce a tincture with a blood red color. The very popularly cultivated strain is the Weeping Willow which is a hybrid between an Asian and European species. The trees can take root from cuttings or twigs that have fallen on the ground. There is a legend about the England’s willows descending from one tree, of which had taken root from a couple twigs tied on a package from Spain to an English poet. The bark and leaves were medicinal to the Assyrians, Egyptians and Sumerians. The chemical inside resembles aspirin. Willow wood is used heavily for all handicraft and building purposes like; chairs, charcoal, flutes, poles, sweat lodges, paper, rope and wands. The catkins are edible. The willow branch is part of the bodhisattva of compassion in Buddhism and are also the sign used by the Mandan tribe of Dakota to commence to Oh-Kee-Pa ritual.

Ginkgo Tree (Ginkgo biloba)
:living fossil tree native to China and Japan, that existed in the Permian Age 270 million years ago. It is from the divison pre-dating Angiosperms (flowering plants) and descending from seed ferns. They are unique in that some trees are male and some are female, ‘dioecious’, so the sperm is motile. It was thought once to be extinct, but had secretly been preserved and planted by Chinese monks for 1000 years! This is from the genetic diversity found in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The leaves inhibit a re-uptake at the serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine transporters. Meaning they cause the neurons to absorb these chemicals in the body. It is traditional medicine and food in China and they apparently have nootropic effects. Some of the temple trees are 1,500 years old, and others had survived in the vicinity of the Hiroshima bomb, still living today.


Botany Unbound: part I, Tea & Succulents

Earthen greetings,  this is the first of some posts about days spent in a local university greenhouse. Other posts may follow the line of guerilla gardening, my own plants, and eco-projects involving any kind of flora.

I have been volunteering at a secret rooftop greenhouse garden on the 13th floor of a university building with 3 semi-distinct rooms. The greenhouse came into existence in the summer of this year to my knowledge, and grows around a hundred different species of house plants, teas, herbs, tropical and desert plants, greens/sprouts, and aquatic plants, sells them to local anti-capitalist/vegetarian shops in Montreal. So far I have tried out the greens session, succulents, and tea atrium. Here is what I did…
In the greens room I got to plant rows, and mix humus rich soil for a variety of Asian flora. In the horticulture succulents room (these are water rich plants that don’t need a lot of sun, like cacti), I seeded some mother of thousands, also called Mexican hat. These have myriads of small budding seeds with roots attached lining the edges of their leaves shaped like old ships. They grow in dry areas of Madagascar and can survive for long droughts if their leaves are full, like using a reserve water supply. I also did some propagation on mature plants, cutting their stems if they had shoots of more than two for replanting, effectively this would grow an entire new plant. In the tea atrium, I extracted oxalis which look like clover, from an olive tree planter, a ficus and a bed of nettles. I learned that small white mites in particular are pests to the cape gooseberry and basil, which can completely kill it. Also spent time cutting flowers off basil plants to allow it to keep growing After the flowers are produced by the plant, they will stop germinate and die because their cylce is complete but by removing the flowers early, it will become taller and more of the basil leaves will branch off. I collected these, which were put in a wooden solar rack for drying to be used for tea.

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