Bunchberries and Moosehead Woodland Beer 

When my family and I were up exploring the great north woods of Maine last week, we stumbled upon many different wild edibles and medicinals growing around us. There was this young northern white cedar outside the door of our cabin bursting with small green cones weighing down its branches. There was a rocky ledge point that jutted out into the lake we explored countless times. It was covered in bunchberry, wild low bush blueberry, mountain cranberry and sweet gale. The edges of the long miles of logging roads were covered with lovely wild flowers and medicinals that every time I identified one, I wanted to stop and gather. But with two young children in tow to regulate, time foraging is short and I only wanted to take what I would use. 

So we gathered what we could, teaching our children along the way. Watching. When it comes to berries, young children just want to try them all especially my just turned two year old. We call him Wreckless. His favorite was the bunchberry. 
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a small, close to the ground umbrella shaped plant. It has a woody stem and four to seven leaves in a whorled pattern that spreads by underground rhizomes. In the spring it produces tiny flowers sounded by four white bracts (look like petals). The red berries emerge in the late summer and the leaves turn burgundy in the fall. 

After eating blueberries, bunchberry will taste bland. This was my first encounter trying them. A jelly like fruit surrounding a small seed. This was not my husbands first encounter with the mysterious red berry. He had tried them numerous times and was excited about the size of the patch we found. He told me to really try to enjoy the subtle flavor. I noticed my 2 year old excited and wildly gobbling them off my husband’s hand. He loved them. His new developing taste buds savored it’s faint sweetness. We gathered a waterbottle full of them and made pancakes the next morning. I also winged up some bunchberry syrup/sauce. Just a few hand fulls or berries, water and honey in a pot. Boiled it down and jarred. Smelled amazing.

Now back to the beer.  
My previous blog post about The Backyard Gruit Beer came along with us on our trip. It was a hit. Refreshing with a hint of a sour malt taste. So with what we gathered up north came home and brewed a lovely smelling gruit that is fermenting on my counter as I type this. Again, foraging and using plants that you are familiar with is important in creating a gruit. If you are not experienced, that’s okay too. Just use herbs and fruit from your local farmer or store. Many of the measuring I eye balled. I usually go by smell when boiling and adjust. 

1 gallon water 

2 1/2 cups brown sugar or maple syrup 

3 tbsp sweet gale leave and nutlets (Myrica gale)

1 cup Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

1/2 cup Eastern White Cedar green cones and sprigs (Thuja occidentalis)

3 tbsps Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

6 flower tops of Yarrow with some top growth leaves (Achillea millefolium)

1/2 cup Common yellow wood sorrel (sour lemon apple flavor)

Couple hand fulls of bunchberies (cornus canadensis with a few blueberries mixed in)

1 packet of ale yeast (or wild, still learning on the yeast front)

Boil for about 30 minutes, cool (I wait until it’s 92 degree F), strain into glass ferment jug, add yeast. Ferment for 10 days. Finish with bottling, priming, capping and rest for 2 weeks.
Enjoy. I’m still amazed how simple it is to enjoy your own homemade beer, with your own gathered ingredients. 

Backyard Rewilding can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally or as a food source.

Harvesting Dock

Weeds are a perspective. 

When one becomes aware and learns the knowledge and properties of the plants and life growing around them, a whole new perspective of the natural world unfolds. A respect is gained. A relationship forms.

There are about 200 species of Rumex, or dock plants. The species people see often is rumex obtusifolius, broad leaf dock (sometimes called bitter dock). Also rumex crispus, curly dock (sometimes called yellow dock). Common names change from place to place so having a good understanding of identification and scientific name of these plants is important. 

In the spring, our bitter dock is some of the first greenery seen popping it’s leaves out of the leaf litter. It is a lovely welcoming confirmation that spring is near. These young, small leaves can be gathered and sautéed as greens. They are high in oxalic acid (as is spinach), so always with anything, eat in moderation. Docks are also in the same family as rhubarb and buckwheat. 

We have a large patch that grows where we manage the Japanese knotweed. Docks love disturbed soil and can survive in different soil and light conditions which is probably what gained them their “weed badge”. Last week the seeds were out with their papery chaff (husk around seed). Some seeds green and red in color, but not all had that crimson red (that’s why our flour is not as red as some dock flours). 

I gathered up an arms full of seed stalks and returned inside. I pulled the leaves off each stalk (saved them for a medicinal oil infusion) while in doing so, I checked for critters. Split the arm full amount into four tied bunches, and hung to dry for almost a week. 

Once dry, I very easily striped the seeds and chaff off each branch and into a bowl. I didn’t bother with separating the chaff from the seeds. Better for fiber! You can roast these in a cast iron over medium to low heat, I did not this time. Then, using a grinder, grind your chaff and seeds and keep in a sealed container.

Dock flour is a great “add in” with flour. Great for pancakes, breads, breading, and thickener. I usually split the measuring of the flour in half in a recipe. Half flour, half dock flour. It will add a grainy texture to recipes like whole grain. Here is the pancake recipe we enjoy.

Dock Flour Pancakes

Makes 3 medium pancakes

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup dock flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder 

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk or milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil

Mix ingredients in a bowl and pour into a heated oiled pan. Wait for bubbles to form in center and flip. Cook until golden. Enjoy! 

Get creative with dock flour and please share!

Backyard Rewilding can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Plantago major: Nature’s Backyard Medicine

Plantago major. Common plantain. Step outside, look down and you will see it growing amongst the grass and dandelions. It was brought here to America by the early settlers. Used by European herbalists for centuries. The Native Americans called it “white mans footprint”. It grew everywhere the white man disturbed. The Anglo Saxon called it “weybraede” meaning “mother of herbs”.

It is known for its drawing agent properties. It has the ability to draw out infections, dirt, pus, mucous, even splinters. A poultice of the leaves can be applied directly to the skin for wounds, bug bites, stings, rashes, even poison ivy. It has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant properties. It is what I consider Mother Nature’s antibacterial ointment.

Last week while washing dishes in the sink, I broke a glass. Sliced the side of my left hand. It was a deep cut. First I grabbed a paper towel and dumped some of my yarrow infused oil on it. Then applied the towel to the wound. The oil hadn’t infused long enough yet (only 3 weeks) so to be safe I ran outside and gathered some fresh yarrow and plantain and made it into a poultice (one handed!). I then applied it to the wound. If it didn’t stop bleeding I told my self there may be a trip to the ER. Yarrow is known for stopping bleeding as is plantain. In about 10 minutes the bleeding stopped. I left the poultice on my cut under the paper towel for about an hr. Then cleaned away the plant material. I applied my plantain healing salve and taped it up with gauze. I checked on it hourly. The amazing thing was the lack of pain. I’ve cut myself badly before, remembering the pain. There was little if any. In two days the wound was closed (I did use butterfly bandages). I continued to apply the plantain salve without a bandage. Will it scar? Probably. Is it tender? Of course. Did I heal myself with plants found right outside my door growing under our feet? Yes. 

It is our go to “boo boo” medicine. Not only is it medicinal, it’s edible. Obviously only harvest from places not touched by pesticides, weed killers, or road sides. The young leaves can be added to salads raw or sautéed like spinach. Even made into a pesto or used like a lettuce wrap. It’s seeds can be harvested and ground into a flour (this is a little more tedious). 

Even my 3 and a half year old is learning the benefits from the plants around her. Playing outside she scraped herself on a stick. Comes up crying to me. Says “Mom, my foot, I cut it!” I asked her, “How can one make it better?” The light bulb goes off in her head, “plantain!” Right away, she scans the ground. She heads over to a patch. She picks a leaf. She kisses it. She knows this amazing, giving plant, but always confirms identification with me. That is our way. She chews it up. Spits it out and applies it to her scratch. “It’s better now Mom.” She is all smiles. She feels it. It’s just natural. A primitive feeling. 

Teaching young children about the life that lives all around them is something that runs deep in our being. From the knowing of the black capped chickadee call above letting out its territorial call, to the young tree frog saved from a mower’s blade with the help of being in wide angle vision. If you teach them to be AWARE, they will show you everyday their sponge like knowledge.

Some parents are proud about trophies and grades (that’s great too). But this makes me one proud Momma. 💚🌿

Plantain Healing Salve

Gather fresh chopped plantain leaves in a jar. Cover with olive oil. Infused for 4-6 weeks. Strain. Place a clean, empty mason jar in a pan half filled with water. Add your oil and beeswax. Heat slowly. I use a 4:1 ratio, oil to beeswax. I usually eyeball this. Stir with a metal skewer. Once melted pour into a container of choice. Let cool. Enjoy!

Backyard Rewilding can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Backyard Gruit Beer

When I can create a beer using plants foraged right in my backyard I feel a pull to research more. Before hops, there was gruit (German for herb). A herbal blend of plants that was used for beer making in the Middle Ages. The most common plants used in herbal gruit was myrica gale, ground ivy, yarrow, mugwort, rosemary and heather. Gruit is ancient dating back thousands of years. Until about 500 years ago when there was a German beer purity law introduced called Reinheitsgebot. This stated that one could only use water, hops, barley and yeast when creating beer.  Gruit disappeared slowly. Until recently with the micro brewery explosion, gruit beer is gaining popularity again. Even Dogfish Head Craft Brewery came out with a gruit beer called Kvasir. Dogfish Head says it was developed with the help of chemical, botanical and pollen evidence taken from a 3,500‐year‐old Danish drinking vessel. The vessel, made of birch bark, that was found in the tomb of a leather‐clad woman that was probably an upper-class dancer or priestess. The analysis pointed to the ingredients used in this unique brew: wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey and birch syrup.

This recipe was inspired by Pascal Baudar. (Google him up or follow him. He is pretty awesome.) All the ingredients except for the sweet gale (found at a friend’s Maine camp) and ale yeast were foraged right in our backyard. This recipe can be changed to work with wild medicinal and edible plants in your region or backyard. Also there are many great authors and books out there like, “Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. “Ancient Brews: rediscovered and Recreated” by Dr. Patrick McGovern and “The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir” by Pascal Baudar.

1 gallon water (local spring if you have one nearby)
2 1/2 cups homemade backyard Maple syrup

3 tbsp sweet gale (Myrica gale)

1 cup Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

1/2 cup Japanese knotweed skin

3 tbsps Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

6 sprigs of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

1/2 cup Common yellow wood sorrel (sour lemon apple flavor)

Boil for about 30 minutes, cool, strain and add yeast. Ferment for 10 days. Finish with bottling, priming and resting.
Enjoy beer like your ancestors before you did.

The Middle of Everywhere

Out in the “middle of everywhere”. There is a “pull” that guides me. Some days it’s a pull to wildlife. A moth hitching a ride on my hat or a common yellow throat following me around on a wetland path. Some days it’s the plants. Like today. I grabbed my foraging bags and knife. I walked. I listened. I took a path, stopped. Turned around. Found a deer run. Followed it. Stalked through the poison ivy. Took a break. Enjoyed some yarrow tea. Checked for ticks. Continued, until I found it. I’m aware. My senses are heightened. The deer flys an mosquitos are buzzing. A bull frog croaks. But all seems quiet. A cattail wetland emerges. The water is low enough to venture into and harvest a hand full of the flowering spikes. I back out. Growing on the edge, high bush blue berries are ripening. I whisper a thank you. Again, gather a handful. Some so high up on the old growth ones, I leave them for the birds. 

I follow my path back into the understory. Back to the abandoned closed access road. Grass, invasives and native plants are taking back the landscape. Raspberries creep into the the path. A large grass spider sits on a stem as I gather the leaves and berries around him. A yellow wild flower patch catches my eye. St. John’s wort. I harvest some to dry or infuse later for the medicine cabinet. Another deer run leads to a small clearing. Milkweed, yarrow, native strawberries mixed in with poison ivy. I gather a small portion of milkweed flowers to pickle later in the afternoon. Leave enough for the monarchs. The humidity is increasing. The scent of sweet fern floods my nostrils. I cut some branches to dry for tea later and head on my way out. That “pull” tells me, “that is enough”. I have a sense of fulfillment. A bag full of food and medicine. The primitive satisfaction awakens me. I whisper “thank you” into the air. Now, home I go to learn from my bounty.

Pine and Cedar Healing Salve

IMG_0300Eastern White Pine and Northern White Cedar Healing Salve.
White pine resin is a natural bandaid that helps heal the tree. It traps invaders and fungus. Research says it’s antimicrobial and anti-fungal. White Cedar holds many of the same medicinal properties.
My 3.5 year old has some funky red circle rash on her face. Slowly it spreads to her back and legs. “Ringworm” (It’s a fungal rash not a worm). As the pine treats and heals it’s wound, I used its help to treat my daughter (not an extreme case). After 4 days, gone. Told my reason why it may have worked to my husband and the light bulb went off. He has the worse “dry skin” in his beard and scalp. Massaged some into his scalp and beard for the last two days. No itching no pain. So I created a new batch today, containing these two healing trees. It smells heavenly.


Recipe: Gather white pine resin in a mason jar then infused in olive oil until dissolved. Gather northern white cedar leaves and infuse in olive oil for 4-6 weeks. For the salve, Use a 1:4 ratio of beeswax:infused oil in double boiler method.

Happy Foraging and Healing.🌲