Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Crown Vetch (Toxic)

Crown Vetch (Securigera Varia) is a plant that is native to parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and has been brought to North America. It's often planted along road ways, and used for erosion control, as well as in soil rehabilitation due to it's ability to add nitrogen into the soil.

The plant doesn't usually get much taller than two feet in a flat area, but will 'crawl' up posts, fences, etc. to some extent. It's flowers range from white to light pink, to a somewhat lavender shade. In southern NH, it's usually in bloom from June through September.

Crown Vetch Flower
Since Crown Vetch is an aggressive spreader, it's not a very good plant for gardens. It will do well left alone in fields or on roadsides, but it does spread very quickly, and can take over and kill off other plants in the area. In fact, it is considered an invasive species in many areas, and should not be planted without proper control.

Crown Vetch is a toxic plant. It's safe to touch, and has a pleasant smell, but the plant and seeds are poisonous if eaten. Crown Vetch can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as cause the pulse to drop, and may even cause death if enough is ingested. Despite being toxic, it is being researched for use in the treatment of some heart disorders (much like Foxglove). In addition to being toxic to humans, it is also toxic to horses. Some animals, like deer, can and do eat Crown Vetch.

Beginner foragers sometimes mistake Crown Vetch for Red Clover. Since Clover is edible (and is actually quite tasty), this can be a very bad mix up. Always check and double check when out foraging, and pay attention to the details of the plant. A mix up between these two plants should be easy to avoid with a little care.

Crown Vetch plants often grow in dense clusters, with tangled root systems. As such, it's ritual uses include binding, or slowing something down. It can also be used in matters of protection for the same reasons. Since Crown Vetch is an aggressive climber and spreader, it can also be used in matters of overcoming obstacles and troubles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Sunday

There are more fireflies out this year than I've ever seen before. The mild winter was good for them (and many other insects, it seems).

It's okay to think someone's beliefs are wrong.

This may seem like an odd choice in topic, but lately I've noticed a number of people who seem to feel that if you do not agree with a particular belief, that you think it is wrong, well then you're a bad bad mean person. Alternatively, if you do believe in something, and act sure of it... same result. Either way, you're "acting like a Christian!" Really? Is this our worst insult?

Here's a pro-tip - if you disagree with Christianity on something like hell, or if you believe in a Deity that others (such as some Christians) may reject? Congratulations. You have beliefs that you're sure of, and there are beliefs that you disagree with. And you know what? That's okay. Really. Honestly. You're just like the vast majority of humans.

You know what else is okay (and truly, where the real issue seems to lie)? It's okay to debate beliefs. Yep. Debate is not inherently bad. Debate can bring about better understanding of your own beliefs, and why you hold them - and debate can bring about a better understanding of beliefs that others may have, and why they have them. Certainly we can deeply examine beliefs on our own, without debate, but debate and discussion with others can bring about aspects and ideas we would not come up with on our own. Debate can help us find the holes in our ideas. It's good to have some beliefs that can stand up to a bit of fire, because those beliefs won't crumble away at the slightest shake, they can support us, and grow with us as we learn more.

Now, there's a limit here, sure. Sometimes debating with particular people becomes more energy than it's worth. Maybe they don't really listen to what you say. Maybe they're downright insulting while you feel you're being respectful. Or maybe you find yourself going in circles with a person. Sometimes you have to know when to step away. When the benefits become minimal. It's also nice to keep in mind that there doesn't necessarily have to be a 'winner' and a 'loser.' Both sides are examined, and you may just agree to disagree, no harm done. However, there's no reason to shun debate and avoid it at all costs. Debating something doesn't make someone rude. The people involved aren't necessarily arguing just because they're mean or close-minded. Some debate can be quite healthy for you and your path. It's not a bad thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Foxglove (Toxic)

The lower half of Grandparents' back yard is absolutely covered in Foxgloves right now. At some point a few were planted around an old stump, and left unattended for a few years they've spread. It's a nice place for them, as it's only in full sun for a small part of the day, while spending the rest of the day in the shade, which Foxgloves prefer.

Foxglove (digitalis purpurea) is a poisonous plant. The leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots are all toxic to humans - as well as dogs, cats, and some other domestic animals like horses and cows. Despite being toxic, an extract from the plant is sometimes used in modern medicine for some heart conditions. Herbalists of the past also used this plant to treat various conditions, such as treatment for an irregular pulse, muscle issues, headaches, and even boils. I'll say it again though, this plant is toxic. It can kill you. There is a very narrow range when it comes to using this plant safely, and it is very hard to accurately gauge just how much to administer.

Foxglove has a host of other folk names. Names involving Fae are quite common - Fairy Bells, Fairy Skirts, Fairy Thimbles, and Fairy Caps. It is also known as Deadman's Bells. Foxglove is a favorite hiding place for the Fae and spirits alike. It is said that when the stalks of the Foxglove bend over, there are spirits present. Planting Foxglove around the home, or on the edges of your property, and leaving them undisturbed will bring the protection of the spirits. However, it is also said Foxglove juice will ward of Fae and other mischievous spirits.

The Fae were also said to have told the foxes how to wear the flowers on their feet, so they would be silent when sneaking up to chickens to steal them - and so, Foxglove. The Fae also taught the foxes how to ring the bells of the flowers, so they could warn fellow foxes when hunters were about.

Several other folk names focus on witches - Witches' Gloves, Witches' Thimbles, Witches' Bells, and so on. Foxglove was among one of the plants used by witches in making flying ointments and potions. In some areas, a dye was extracted from the leaves of the Foxglove, and used to paint lines on cottage floors - likely to ward off witches.

Foxgloves come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to dark purple. The flowers have a little spotted pattern on the inside of the bell, and they too can vary from very light to very dark. Folklore says the spots are where Fae or spirits have rested on the blooms.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spring Greens Salad with Honey Orange Dressing

Happy solstice! Summer is here, and it sure decided to come in strong - temperatures almost hitting 100F. Even so, I was able to find a somewhat shady spot on some slightly overgrown stone steps to enjoy a little Litha meal.

Since it's so hot I wanted to make something simple and light, focusing on some of the flavors of this time of year - honey and citrus. I'm especially fond of including citrus flavors, because it helps to link the longest day to the shortest day, another citrus heavy holiday.

Spring Greens Salad with Honey Orange Dressing
4 tbsp light olive oil
3 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sesame seeds
Dried Basil
Salt and Pepper

Whisk the orange juice, honey, vinegar, mustard and sesame seeds together until combined. Quickly whisk in the olive oil, and blend until well combined. Add in a good pinch of dried basil, and a pinch of dried nutmeg. A little of each will go a long way for this dressing. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss the dressing with mixed spring greens, or just spinach if you like. A few slices of orange on top are a nice addition.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Summer Sunday

I know the solstice isn't quite here yet, but since it's only a few days away now...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus was yesterday - that is, Venus could be seen moving across the sun (for those with the proper eye protection to look at the sun). This event will not occur again until 2117. Although it was cloudy, I was able to catch a small glimpse of it at one point. I spent several hours watching the live feed NASA had up, which also included a lot of mini-documentaries on the transit, and related topics, as well as the scientists at the observatory talking about it.

At some point the topic came up about viewing the transit from Mars - and then, that if you were on Mars you could also view the transit of Earth when it happened. Like Venus going across the sun's face here, the Earth would just be this little dot traveling across the sun to someone standing on Mars. It really puts into perspective just how large our solar system is... which puts into perspective just how large our galaxy is... and of course, just how large the universe is.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nature Escapes

"What kind of nature escapes do you have where you are? Do you have a local trail that you can simply take a walk on to escape? Or perhaps you have some neat hiking nearby... Or maybe you are one of the lucky ones that can simply escape into your own backyard, literally."

I'm one of the lucky ones. When I'm at my apartment, there's a good stretch of woods that takes just a few minutes to walk to. There's also a farm at one end of the woods, sometimes I sit at the edge of it watching the wind in the corn. When I'm visiting my Grandparents, the woods are right on the edge of the back yard. Both woods have little streams in them, trails, all sorts of plants and animals, as you'd expect from New Hampshire woods.

Of course, I don't always think of the woods as an escape exactly (perhaps I've been spoiled by having them so close?). I forage for various herbs and plants, and practice my craft in the woods. No, when I think of an escape, I think of someplace I go more to relax, to vacation. Sure, sometimes I just go for walks in my woods... but I like to really escape, too, you know?

Living in New Hampshire there's a lot of options for that. Every summer I like to go up camping in the mountains, and swim in the large lakes and rivers in that area. I try to get away for at least a whole week at some point - but friends and I often go up for little day or weekend trips, too. There's tons of nature to just explore and enjoy here. If not up north, then down to the beach. Or up to Maine, or into Vermont. I do think I'm very lucky to have so much of the wild around me, and to have the means to enjoy it when I can.