Foraging on the Homestead

I love all the seasons of the Keweenaw, but when it comes to foraging, oh my how summer does provide! Recently we had a filming here about Keweenaw foraging – for the show “Discovering” on 906 Outdoors. (We had a winter filming too, maybe you’d like to check it out!) After the filming (I’ll share the link on social when it’s ready!), I was reflecting on how I became a forager. I couldn’t quite put a finger on any specific experience or moment. More so that foraging sorta slowly sneaked its way into my life. It probably started with our move here to White Sky Woods. While the garden and fruit trees were just getting established, we foraged wild berries from all over our property. I probably didn’t call it foraging though, just picking. At the time, I had known through focusing on a natural foods diet, that some plants in nature were medicinal, such as raspberry leaf. I remember this being one of the first things foraged once we moved here, and it was so exciting that I blogged about it!

As we were out picking fruit, I started to see new plants I didn’t know. So, being the naturally curious person I am, I started out learning the identifications of many of the plants on our land – from trees to grasses and all the things between (I met a lot of amazing animal life along the way too). As I became more familiar with the plants we share our home with and developed the ability to identify them in various growing stages, I started to learn more about the properties of the plants and how they could benefit us and what we could do to provide for them. I fumbled a lot in the beginning, having problems with identification retention, but the more I was out with the land, the more it came to me quickly. On hikes out on the woods, I soon found myself looking at all the plants and naming them in my mind as I passed by them. I still do this today, like saying hi to people you know on a busy street.

Hello St. John’s Wort. Your sunny beautiful flower will be a source of mental wellness come the long, Keweenaw winter nights.

Still, after many years identifying plants on our land (going back over a decade now), there are some that stump me every spring when they come up and I have to refresh my memory. But, there are the “old standards” that have become a part of our foraging practice that I easily identify, harvest, and use for various purposes. The kids do too!

We do some foraging and harvesting for medicinal purposes, but for the most part, our focus is finding wild edibles and foraging that benefit our general wellness. Our favorites are the berries, but there is SO much more than that. This past winter we didn’t buy packaged tea because we had foraged enough from the land to provide our own healthy teas. Also, I created a few blends to sell at our farm stand.

When I’m out spending time with the land now, I think about how the land provides. I thank it. I think about what I can do to provide for it in return for its abundance. It’s a relationship of balance and respect and reciprocity. Just like one you would have with a partner or friend.

That is what the land is to me. While the food we forage is healthy for our bodies, the relationship with the land feeds my soul. We feed our body with food, and we can feed our soul with nature (vitamin N).

I thought about sourcing a whole bunch of beautiful pictures of nature for this post, but honestly, writing about the land has it calling to me. Now, it’s time for me to head up in the trees and forage Juneberries while watching my fingers get stained with the juices and listening and observing nature around me.

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

Name that tea! Really.

Right now many gardeners, homesteaders, and the like are getting jazzed about the upcoming planting season. But here I am with projects still lingering from the summer and fall harvest of 2019. Once I wrap these up, I know I’ll feel more clear and ready to accept the upcoming growing season! I’ve been wanting to do these lingering projects, but you know…..time. Left on my list includes:

Chokecherry juice and wild plum juice I made and froze that needs to be thawed for jelly making. Yum!

A huge bowl of frozen tomato sauce that needs to be thawed and canned (I ran out of jars at the end of the season).

A bin filled with mason jars packed full of various edibles and medicinals we foraged throughout the summer.

In most of these jars are “weeds” that are known by some for being a nuisance on their lawn, and by others for their healing properties. An example is Pineapple Weed. This relative of chamomile smells like pineapple when crushed and adds a bright, fruity flavor when brewed in a tea. I picked, washed, and dehydrated a bunch this summer and have been adding it to my loose berry leaf teas. Like true chamomile, it can be used for relaxation.

My long-term intention with my jars full of foraged and dehydrated goodies is to create small batches of unique herbal tea blends for my own enjoyment and ultimately to develop recipes that I can repeat and use to create product for sale. The herbal tea blends are for flavor enjoyment and general wellness (not specific medicinal use). The ingredients are 100% harvested at White Sky Woods. All winter long I’ve been enjoying my random blends; I haven’t had to buy any tea from the store!

It was time. I finally I sat down, measured, documented, mixed, and individually bagged two final recipes! They have been taste tested and approved and I hope to have a small amount of handcrafted herbal teas for sale this summer.

So here’s the thing, before I sell this product, both handcrafted blends need a name! Here’s where you come in. 😉 Below are the descriptions of each herbal tea blend. If you have a creative idea for a name that matches the product, please make your suggestion. If I use your suggestion, I’ll give/send you 10 bags of whichever herbal tea blend you prefer (or a combo including both). Read the descriptions below and send me an e-mail if you’re inspired with a name (or names)!

The first recipe’s flavor could be described as a warm and earthy blend. It was created with the idea of comfort and chasing the winter blues away. It includes: wild raspberry leaf, wild strawberry leaf, wild blueberry leaf, stinging nettle, St. John’s wort, and bergamot leaf.

The second recipe is bright and soothing – the taste of a relaxing summer day. It has a sweet scent and a would be delightful either hot or cold. It’s a blend of wild strawberry leaf, wild raspberry leaf, and pineapple weed.

Homemade herbal tea in my Grandma’s antique tea cup.

I’m looking forward to your name suggestions! For now, it’s tea time. Cheers!

-L

May 2019 Digest

Each month I submit a piece to be published in the MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. It intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too. The following is the original article with a bonus recipe for our personal blog readers.

5/27/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

After a long winter where we received the greatest amount of snow and tough winter weather since the 1980’s (as we were told by locals and confirmed by local snow measures); we have reimagined a few ways to bring our animals closer for water and feeding access and into a better building that will keep them more comfortable in winter. We’ve just completed putting up the new pen for the rabbits. The rabbits are colony-raised on pasture, so they have a large area where they have dirt piles to dig, brush piles to hide in and plenty of space for hopping. This will be our first year offering rabbit meat to our local community. We have a small interested group and look forward to bringing healthy, ethically-raised meat to our community. Next will be moving the chickens and ducks from their large poultry yard over to a free-range area with a better insulated coop for them to go in at night. We will be watching closely with the switch between the poultry yard to free-range, we’re hoping we do not have too much trouble with predators.

Now that the grass is (finally!) green, the goats go out to pasture daily and are enjoying a full buffet of fresh grass, weeds, and sticks. If goats can smile, these ones sure are!

Buck Norris, June Berry, and Alder enjoying fresh pasture.

Garden planting is almost complete. Early crops went in the week of 5/13: peas, carrots, onions, beets, parsnips. Other standards like squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers all go in around Memorial Day. Our favorite crop is always the variety of beans we grow for drying. A favorite we grew last year was cannellini, a beautiful white bean that soaks and cooks quickly, it’s soft and buttery and is the perfect complement to a slow-cooked portion of our own pasture-raised pork.

The major undertaking we have this summer is improving an old homestead cabin on our property. Our goal is to open it as an AirBNB (Spring 2020) where people can either come to “get away from it all” and/or engage in learning experiences around our homestead. The first step is siding the cabin – we hope to complete this before the mosquitos come out in full force!

As spring greens up, the kids and I have enjoyed finding all the new life surrounding us – from dandelions, to caterpillars, to tadpoles! Our kitchen table is never short of a freshly picked arrangement of dandelions – haha! Each year we try to forage new things available to us naturally growing around our property. Our most enjoyable foraging experiment this year so far has been Dandelion Flower Cookies!

The cookies were a huge hit, find the recipe here: Dandelion Flower Cookies

I Can Berrily Stand It

The last few weeks we’ve been eating berries.  Lots of them! This year, the berries are sooooo good that I can berrily stand it! (<—see what I did there? Ha!)

One of our major joys this July has been foraging for berries.  Since we have a full summer of experience here at the homestead now, we know more where to look and what to look for when foraging.  We’ve been visiting our property for over 8 summers, but this one by far has given us the best looking, most tasty, and massive quantities of berries. Now, if I could only find more time to pick!  I’ve been putting the kids to work to help out.  Flora, 8, is fairly useful.  Woodland, 4, well…..he’s really good at eating the berries, as you can see by the proof here.

berryface.jpg
Let a 4 year old forage berries, and you get this!

This season’s ripe berries include juneberries (also known as serviceberry or other names depending on regionality), blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. We have all of these on our homestead growing wildly (I am a lucky lucky girl!). The Keweenaw thimbleberries are coming into season too, but I have to travel off our homestead to pick those, and I haven’t gone out for this season’s haul yet. Soon.

What to do with all these berries? Well, our favorite is fresh eating. The kind of fresh where it never makes it to the house because you just eat your way through the bushes.  This reminds me of one of our favorite books, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (see the book read here). The kids and I are definitely kindred spirits with little Sal and baby bear.

Wild blueberries in hand.
Yea, I ate all these wild blueberries.

Another way to use the berries if you don’t eat them all is to make jam. As a busy family of 4, I’ll admit, we eat PBJ sandwiches at least one meal a week….if not more *wink*.  I have no shame in this, especially when I’ve made enough jam from the strawberries and coming up from the juneberries and blueberries to last us at least a year. There is nothing sweeter than jam made with berries from our own homestead and made with love, by me.

Yet another way is preserves….as close to berry eating as you can get in winter. Delightful on yogurt, french toast, pancakes, or a dutch baby. Lastly, creating a syrup is also a dandy of a way to get that fresh berry flavor.

Our favorite find this year has been the juneberries. When fully ripe, these beauties are plump and taste like a combination between a blueberry and a concord grape. YUM – gimmie more!  The trees they grow on are scrawny but tall so a ladder is a necessity in picking these. I’ll go pretty well any distance and out of my comfort zone for berries.  They are in the rankings of my favorite food and an unsteady ladder is the risk I will take to eat them!

Juneberries on tree.
Picking with friends makes for great memories!

My favorite thing about picking berries is not necessarily the taste, full belly, or canned goods – it’s the memories made.  Memories of this time of year, memories of the summer weather (and bugs that come with it!), the key life moments taking place, and having great conversation with friends while picking. Summer in the Keweenaw. These are the days!