Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nature's Aspirin

The willow tree is one of those trees that people either love or they hate.  Some people find them graceful and lovely.  In the Orient they have been found painted on thousand year old porcelain.  In many old European paintings we see country scenes and often there by the creek is the graceful willow.  Yet other people don't like how even a moderate wind can blow down many branches that they have to clean up.  They see it as a dirty tree.

That grace or dirtiness is not the willow's way of trying to get on our good or bad side.  It is the willow's way of surviving.  By having the outer branches be fragile, it lets them be broken off in a wind instead of bringing the whole tree down.  Also, because the tree can breed asexually, if these branches bend down a touch the earth for any length of time they will take root and make a young clone of the parent tree, assuring if the parent tree does fall the young tree will be there to take its place.

We can actually use willow to help us root our own plants.  Have some rosemary you want to share?  Make a strong willow tea, make a clean snip of new growth rosemary, and soak the cut end of the rosemary in the willow tea.  Let it set for an hour, then pop the rosemary into some good compost and it should grow into a whole new plant.  I have also heard of people drying and powdering willow bark, dipping cut herbs into that powered and then putting it into good compost.  I've never tried the powder but I have done it as a tea and it work quite well as long as you have the new growth part of the plant you are trying to root.

What willow, especially white willow, is used most for is the salicine that it contains, mostly in the inner bark.  When we digest this salicine, it turns into salicylic acid inside our bodies.  Salicylic acid is what the now synthetic aspirin comes from.  Willow can be harvest all year long for a quick pain reliever.  The tips of willow can be snapped off and boiled in water to make a strong, healing tea.  If they can snap off easily they can be used for pain relief at the time.  As the branch gets older, it becomes tougher, making it harder to snap off the ends.  Once this happens the inner bark can be gathered in the spring but it shouldn't be used as a year round medicine.  Only on the new growth should the twigs be used for a quick pain reliever.

The part of the willow that contains the strongest medicine is the inner bark that is gathered just as the sap is beginning to rise in the spring.  How I can tell when it is time is when I drive past the creek house of my cousin and see that yellow glow on the tops of the big willows.

The glow gets brighter the closer the buds on the tree gets to budding out (bursting into leaves).  Once the tree buds out the bark can still be harvested, but it should be done quickly because by the time the leaves are at full length, the medicine isn't as strong in the bark.  I try to harvest right at the moment the buds start bursting.  I say I try, but because I live in a busy world I don't always succeed. lol  As you can see from the picture above, the tops of this big willow is just starting to get that yellow look (actually in real life it is much more yellow-my cheap camera can't capture just how yellow it is).

Willow bark can be used in so many different ways. It can be used on its own in a strong decoction for pain relief and to take down minor swelling.  It can be used in both an oil and a liniment (soak the bark in alcohol) as a topical pain relief.  It can be mixed with other herbs such as the skunk cabbage from yesterday for tension headaches or mints for stomach aches. It has been used as a gentle blood thinner for people with heart problems.  The cooled tea can be used as a wash for sunburns.  Women have taken willow tea for years for menstrual pain and some studies show it may work better than most over the counter pain relievers for this.  In sprained ankles not only does it help with pain management but it can reduce the swelling as well.  For fever it works best if combined with yarrow or mint to help bring down the fever but singlarly it can reduce the aches and pains that come from one.

Because the willow contains more than just salicine some research seems to point out that in many cases, willow bark works better than the isolated aspirin that we buy in pill form.  On a study done on patients with osteoarthritis showed that willow actually worked better than aspirin for pain management.  Other studies show that some people (not all) who have aspirin allergies are not affected by taking willow bark.  It is believed this is because other ingredients in the bark acts as a buffer for the salicine.

A few warnings come with using this plant; If you are allergic to aspirin, this is the natural version of the same thing.  You probably should take care if you want to try willow bark.  Also, if you are going to have or have had surgery you should probably tell your doctor you have been using willow bark as it is a blood thinner.  Because of a child's undeveloped immune system, Rey's syndrome can come from taking any wild medicinal that contains salicine.  It is best not given to a child under the age of 15.

Many plants contain salicine; your birches, poplars, cottonwoods, wintergreen, and meadowsweet.  It was meadowsweet that scientists used to learn about salicine and how to isolate it in the lab.  When you hear that salicine is aspirin-like, it's actually the other way around, aspirin is salicine-like, because salicine came first.   Out of all these plants, the three that are most used for pain relief are wintergreen, meadowsweet, and willow.

Pain management is an important step in any healing process.  A tense body simply does not heal as well as  a body that is relaxed and has the ability to rest and sleep.  Study after study after study shows that pain management allows the body to heal itself in a shorter period of time, with less permanent damage than a body that has no pain management.  The ancient and natural way of doing this has been with plants, and willow bark tea is one of the oldest cures of mankind.  As willows grow all over the world, people from many different continents have been using this pain relief plant for centuries.  Now science is beginning to show that in some cases, the people of old had better pain management tools that we do now.  Pop a pill or spend some time in nature gathering our own medicine?  The choice is simple for me.

This is my attempt to create of post for Wildcrafting Wednesday from the Wood Wife Journal. To see other very wise people's posts follow this link.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wild Medicinal: Skunk Cabbage

  • Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate.  From Wikipedia

     As a forensic meteorologist, my work's study of seasonal changes tend to be atmospheric changes.  A biologist would probably watch breeding times, migration patterns, and hibernation schedules.  We homesteaders tend to know last frost days, earliest frost days, when our animals give birth, harvest times.  Botanists tend to know when certain plants come up, when they flower, and when they go to seed.  Then there are the general phenologists, which most people are.  Every person has something that tells them the seasons are changing.  The first blue bird of spring, the geese flying south in the fall, when we see the first fawns... For many nature lovers, there is the one flower that burns its way through the snow to be the first flowers of the spring.  The only thing is you have to be willing to slosh into the deep swamps to find it.  

    Skunk cabbage is a perennial plant that stores its energy in its roots through the winter so it can get an early start in the spring.  Because it usually grows in deeper woods, the flower comes early before the trees leaves can shade it out.  Its flower literally burns its way up through the snow.  It is a plant that produces heat so that it can get an even earlier start than most plants.  It get its name from the scent its very primitive flower gives off.  The flower comes up too early for the normal nectar eating insects to pollinate it so it tries to attract the only pollinator that is around, the fly.  Skunk cabbage smells like rotting flesh because that is what flies like.

    The nice thing is if you process skunk cabbage correctly that smell isn't there.

    The part of skunk cabbage that is used medicinally is the root.  It is white, bulb-like and shallow.  If the ground isn't frozen, it is quite easy to harvest by simply pulling on the flower itself.  The root is best gathered as early as possible in the spring with one its very young stage, skunk cabbage can look like the poisonous black hellbore.  Most people wait until the flower opens and then they harvest their skunk cabbage.

    Harvesting is only half the battle with skunk cabbage though.  Fresh skunk cabbage contains calcium oxalate crystals, which, as long as there is a hint of moisture in the plant, will burn you like you're eating acid.  It's not really poisonous when fresh, but that may be because no one would have the strength to eat such a painful plant to poison themselves with it.  Skunk cabbage must be completely dried before use. And when I say completely dried, I mean not like dehydrated but having not a drop of its original moisture left in it.  Then it can be powered and let dry some more.  Skunk cabbage medicine will only last about a year and then it needs to be replaced.

    What I do is dry it in a warm, dark place.  Because I harvest it this time of year the wood stove is still going. I have shelves set up behind the wood stove for drying skunk cabbage.  I slice it really thin and let it set until it breaks not bends.  Then I grind it up, spread it on cookie sheets and let it dry again.  Once the powder is completely dry I put it into jars and either vacuum seal the jars or put in a handful of rice to absorb any remaining moisture.  The rice can be sifted out of the power when it is needed to be used.

    Skunk cabbage powder is used to relax the body and as a diuretic.  It acts as a mild narcotic and I use it mostly for uncontrollable coughing that doesn't let a person rest.  It lets the muscles that do the coughing relax enough so the person can get the rest that is often the most important part of healing.  It should not be used in cases of mucus in the lungs that need to be brought up.  It is also used for arthritis more to help the person relax through the pain instead of as an actual pain killer.  It can be mixed with willow bark to help heal tension head aches. I have also used it when a filly broke my collar bone a couple years ago.  It broke on the left side and when I was healing I kept trying to do things with my right side.  Those muscles became sore and tired.  Skunk cabbage powder helped relax those over used muscles.

    While there are easier diuretics to gather and use, many people still use it especially if they need to lose water weight for their heart or during menstruation.  It helps the body relax as well as get rid of extra water weight.

    For me gathering skunk cabbage is part of the fun.  You can't get into much wilder places than into the deep dark swamps where they grow.  I was once out gathering up roots and scared up a mink less than a foot away from me.  He stared at me with his beady little eyes for a moment before he inched to the creek to continue his hunt.  It was an amazing, wild moment that helped heal me just as much as  the skunk cabbage.

    It takes a bit of work to collect and process but its relaxing effects are well worth the trouble.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spring fever is really setting in today.  I want green plants and gardens and new calves and goslings and baby chicks and...  So I went down to the apiary and checked on the bees.  They are all doing really well except this one.  I could see the frost before I even opened the hive.  I thought, no way did they make it.  Frost is a death sentence for bees in the winter.  But there they were, buzzing around lookin' good.  I cleaned off the frost and hopefully they didn't get too wet.

I lost some hives to a late season bear earlier in the winter.  It was totally my fault.  I left the gate to the pen open because I thought all the bears had to be in hibernation by then.  Nope, there was one left.  A late season bear is usually a sick, old or under nourished bear that can't go into hibernation because they don't have enough fat stores.  It is the only time I ever worry about them because they are desperate for food at that time.  I never saw the bear though, just the damage he did to a couple hives.

Besides that it looks like all my bees made it through winter with flying colors.  Yay!!!

Onion Syrup and Garlic Salve

One of my neighbor ladies has this medical issue that she seems to get at least once a year.  Either in the spring or the fall she gets pneumonia in her right lung.  The weather changes and she starts having chest pains.  The scary thing is there has been four times now that the doctors couldn't see the pneumonia on the x-rays right away.  

Just a quick lecture here, if you are having chest pains and the doctor's can't find the reason, ask to see someone who is trained exclusively at looking at x-rays, a radiologist.  Sometimes pneumonia can hide in a way that a general practitioner cannot see.  You are all too important for us to lose you and your wisdom.

Okay, so my neighbor lady once again called me up and said, "guess what..." 

I didn't have to guess.  I just started up some onion syrup for her to take.  Onion syrup is a great medicine to loosen up the phlegm in the chest.  It is often called a cough medicine but it's more of a lung medicine as it can actually make you cough more once all that mucus in your chest is broke free and you start coughing it up.  Yes, I know this sound gross, but if you have gunk in your lungs, you want it out. 

I make my onion syrup with honey, just because I have bees and plenty of honey.  But it can be just as easily made with sugar.  In fact some people say you get more medicine out of the onion if you use sugar.

To make it with honey just slice the onion, break the slices apart in a bowl and pour honey over it enough to cover.  Then take something and mush down on the onions.  I usually use the bottom of a clean canning jar.  Let this sit for about eight hours (overnight if you can spare the time), mushing down on the onions every now and again.  Strain out the onions and bottle the syrup in a sterile jar.  Take two Tablespoons three times a day, or more if you want, it won't do any harm besides give you onion breath.

If you want to make it with sugar, put a layer of broke apart onion slices down at the bottom of your bowl.  Cover with sugar, then another layer of onions, then another layer of sugar, and so forth until you have covered all your onions with sugar.  Again, mush the onions to start them releasing their juices.  Let set for eight hours, again, mushing the onions ever now and again to keep their juices coming out.  This way of doing it though allows you to decant the juices as soon as they come out.  So if in a half and hour you have a tablespoon of syrup, you can carefully drain this off, take it and let the rest sit longer.  You may need to add a bit more sugar after you have done this, but you can get that medicine in right away.

Cathy (the neighbor lady) has been taking onion syrup for years and she says it works better than the antibiotics.  I won't say that myself, but you can use it with the antibiotics because they won't interact and it will help speed up the loosening of the mucus in your chest.

The other thing I make for her is garlic salve.  Again, pretty easy to make and you can use it right away.  The main problem with garlic salve is that it will make your breath and sweat smell like garlic.  But to be able to breath without hurting most people don't mind that little inconvenience.

I make my garlic salve with coconut oil for the most part now, but for a long time I made it with simple Crisco.  If you can't get coconut oil, use Crisco, it works fine too.

Take 1/3 cup of coconut oil (or Crisco), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 10 cloves of raw garlic, and if you want to keep it awhile 5 drops of lavender oil.  You don't need the lavender oil for the medicine, it just makes it last longer.  Put all this into a blender and blend on high until it is all liquid.  Pour it into a wide mouth jar.  Some people strain it, but I never have.  This must be stored in the refrigerator, so don't whip it up until you need it.

This works on many things but for pneumonia you rub it on the chest, the back, and the soles of the feet.  Yep, put it on your feet and put on some cotton socks to keep yourself from smearing it all over the bed covers.  Within an hour you should be able to start tasting the garlic and those around you should be able to smell it on your breath.  Your body will absorb it and you'll start sweating garlic in a few hours.  Apply often, once an hour if things are bad, once every three hours in the beginning of a not so bad pneumonia episode and then you can slow it down gradually to 4 times a day.

Garlic salve is one of those things you have to try to believe how well it works.  It's amazing stuff.

I'm not saying don't go to a doctor, if you suspect you have pneumonia, getting on antibiotics can save your life.  Jim Henson, the guy who created Kermit the Frog, died from walking pneumonia that he didn't even know he had until it was too late.  If you think you have it, get help.  Still these are two things that can help speed your recovery or get you through until you can see your doctor.  I live in the middle of an Amish community, and these are two cures that they "doctor" themselves with all the time.  Onions and garlic are great healers for all of us English as well.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A good Sunday

Sunday is usually my day to catch up on everything I didn't get done during the week.  Funny how the last few Sundays I didn't even touch the things that didn't get done during the week.

This Sunday I was suppose to go out and gather skunk cabbage with friends.  Starting last night all but one started calling with reasons they couldn't come.  So we decided to try again on Wednesday.  Which was fine because my talented nephew invited me over for lesson on the forge.  When I was younger my father use to work with me on the forge almost every weekend.  He passed away when I was 17 and I lost interest in blacksmithing.

Come along my nephew, Hawken, (yes, we are rednecks, we name our children after rifles lol), and he just LOVES to work with the forge.  If there is such a thing as a metal whisperer, my nephew is it.   A couple months ago he volunteered to start re-teaching me how to work the forge.  Forty six is a long way from seventeen though and I find I have a lot to re-learn.  We had a good morning and Hawken and I made four hinges for my new summer kitchen that I will start building in March (hopefully).

We spent the afternoon gathering sap and on our way over the creek we found an area where the snow had melted and left a muddy mess.  There, in the mud was a bunch of sunchokes or Jerusalem artichoke tubers.

Sunchokes are native to the tallgrass prairie and our farms are right on the edge of the taiga (big northern forests) and the tallgrass prairie.  So while many people plant sunchokes in their gardens for an easy starch source, we just gather them out of the mud in the fall and spring.  They are sweeter in the spring though.   Here they are almost considered to be a weed plant.

So we gathered up a handful of them and took them back for a quick venison stir fry.  The venison we took last fall, the broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and garlic came out of the garden,  and the sunchokes added a nice, water chestnut-like crunch.  The stir fry was served over homemade egg noodles with homemade garlic soy sauce over the top.

Now I'm sitting out in the sugar shack watching maple sap become maple syrup while typing on the lap top just to prove to myself that I still live in the 21st century.  lol  It's been a good day, though I really need to start treating my Sundays like the day I get caught up on all the work I didn't get done the rest of the week.  My basement isn't going to finish cleaning itself!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Maple Syrup Grading and the History of The United States

When I take my syrup to get judged I often get asked the question; "Why is it that maple syrup that has the lightest color and the least amount of maple flavor is graded at a higher grade?"

They are right to ask.  I mean if you're paying $55.00 a gallon for maple syrup, shouldn't you want it to taste like maple syrup?  That's not how it's graded though, the better the grade, the less maple flavor it has.  If you like a good, deep amber maple syrup with a good amount of flavor, you want to buy a lower grade.  So, why is that?

The answer has a lot to do with the founding of the United States of America and what led up to our Revolutionary War.  So maple syrup grading is a bit of history in a jar.

A few hundred years ago, before the U.S. was the U.S., we were simply colonies of England.  The ruling people of the time were basically displaced Europeans.  They really weren't out to be separate from their European roots, they weren't looking to be Americans.  Some were here for business opportunities, others because of religious persecution, still others were here because they couldn't find work or land back in the old countries.  But they still considered themselves to be Europeans.

Now back in this time there was no TV, radio, smart phones, computers...basically there were fewer ways of communications.  They did have newspapers, they had taverns for the men to get together in and they had afternoon tea.  Afternoon tea was a ritual for neighbors to come together and talk about what was happening around the area and around the world.  Tea time was a very important part of the social structure of the time. If you didn't do afternoon tea, you often didn't know what was happening around you.  So people spent a great deal of time and money to make their afternoon teas the best.  The more well connected people you had come to your tea, the more news you found out about.

Rich people had tea imported from China, they had sugar imported from the colonies on South America, they had lemons imported from the Mediterranean area.  Much of what they ate everyday could be grown on the farms and plantations of the area, but tea time ingredients came from far away.

Poorer people in the colonies couldn't afford all this importing.  They would have saved their money to buy a nice tea set, but the ingredients were usually stuff they could get from the area.  New Jersey tea is a plant that roots have a similar taste to oriental tea and it grew in abundance.  Sumac berries and lemon balm was used instead of imported lemons.  And maple syrup and sorghum was used instead of sugar.  Maple syrup wasn't as heavy as sorghum so it was used more often for tea.

Well, as most Americans know about their history, the import tax on these goods kept getting higher and higher as the King of England needed more money to fight his wars.  Most of these wars had nothing to do with the colonies and when the colonies needed help, the king would not send help.  When the colonists tried to complain, they had no voice back home in Europe.  They became tired of paying the taxes with no voice on how these taxes were spent.  They didn't mind the taxes, they just didn't like that none of it was being spent on them.

So, what the first patriots of the times did was stop buying stuff that had to be imported on English ships.  Some tried smuggling goods in, but this proved to be expensive.  But these patriots noticed that poorer people could make it quite well without paying for all these imported goods.  The original patriots knew something we seem to have forgotten,  that is sometimes we have to give something up to gain our freedoms.  They stopped buying from English ships.  Things that tasted most like tea became their tea, lemon flavored sumac berries were good enough lemon flavor.  And maple syrup that was light enough to pass for regular sugar became very sought after.  The closer it was to sugar, the higher its grade would be.

We still carry this grading system today.  The lighter the color of the syrup, the less maple flavor it has, the higher the grade is on the syrup.  It is a nod towards our freedom fighting ancestors that started our march toward a free country by giving up something that was very important to them.  Maple syrup is a very North American product.  It comes from only one tiny little part on this planet,  the North East part of the U.S. and the Eastern part of Canada.

Again, the history from here is something that most young Americans are taught in school.  Despite the patriots giving up their imports, there were still many people that just kept right on buying from the enemy.  So one night some men in Boston climbed aboard three ships that the leaders of Boston refused to send back to England.  They threw the tea overboard so that EVERYONE in the colonies would be forced to join the struggle on one side or the other.

It was the beginning of the war that led to the interesting experiment that is The United States of America.  And maple syrup played a role in our freedom.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Independence Day Challenge 2/17

Independence Day Challenge

From Sharon Astyk's page:

We haven't had much of a winter this season, until the last few days.   It has snowed on and off this whole week.  The nice thing about these late season snows is that they melt pretty quick.  Still can't do anything in the outside garden, but I am working a few things indoors now.

Plant something:  I had this sweet potato that I have been saving for its slips.  They were growing slowly all winter and then when the days started getting longer, boom the thing took off like crazy.  I was going to wait and plant them in the greenhouse but they were starting to wither on the potato.  

So I had these peat pots that someone gave me awhile ago and I planted the slips and put them in the south window.  I've never planted sweet potatoes indoors with the intent of planting them outside later so we'll see how this works.  If it works well, I'll be doing it every year.

Harvest something
Besides the normal eggs, milk, sprouts and porch greens, I have tapped 722 maple trees and we have boiled down just short of 11 gallons of syrup so far.  It is early in the season, so we'll see how good of a run we get.

Preserve something:  
I guess I would have to fall back on my maple syrup.  While most of the early runs are sold because they are the highest grades, I do keep a few pints back to give as gifts or to put up at the fair for prizes.   I did dry some squash leather from squash that were starting to soften up in the basement cellar.  The outlying cellars are still good though.

Waste not:
I was given an old recycling bin that a friend was going to throw away.  I scrubbed it up, drilled some hole in it, and now it is a potato bin down in the cellar.  I hand made my old potato bin of woven grape vine and it last many years, but it is slowly giving up the ghost.  Tine for a spiffy new plastic one.  Can I be a redneck witch if I store my potatoes in a plastic bin?

Want Not: 
Not the easiest category for me because I HATE shopping.  I did order a oil expeller off of Amazon.  My friend has one and she is making her own pumpkin seed oil.  I loved it so I ordered myself one.  Other than that, I am not going near a store just to say I bought something for my list.  lol

Eat the Food: 
Big apple and squash eating time right now.  They last well in the basement root cellar until the end of February and right on time they are starting to go soft.  I made applesauce and have been eating it with every meal.  We also made squash leather and I can't eat enough of that.  My stomach is telling me "no more" but my hand just shovels it into my hungry mouth.  lol.  It's great for carrying with on long hikes like the one tomorrow when we go and harvest our skunk cabbage.

Build community food systems
This time of year we have our community garden meetings every OTHER week.  This was an off week for it.  But I did go in a clean up the community cannery, if that counts.  I don't think so because I was really upset that it had been left in such a mess.  But I guess it needed to be cleaned so others in the community could use it so maybe I can count that...maybe?

Skill up
Still taking my First Responder course.  I usually take it every two to four years but I pushed just a bit past it this time to four and a half years.  Time kinda got away from me.  I still think that chest compressions make the best workout for your butt and thighs.   My butt burned for days after we had to do chest compression drills.  I keep thinking if I have to keep someone alive, am I strong enough to keep going at it?  So I've been doing my StairMaster coat rack again.
I'm also learning about alternative energy, albeit I am doing this for ulterior motives.  I am dating the instructor and I enjoy listening to the man talk.   I don't know if I am hearing everything he is saying though.  I have to listen closer and stop staring at his....well, that's another topic.  LOL  .  

This time of the year w are just starting to get into many of these categories but it's good to keep a tab of what we do so that we feel that we are moving ahead.  For me it makes me know that I am not spinning my wheels and it gives me a push to get out and do more.

Light and Dark Medicines

Working with wild medicinals can be very rewarding and very dangerous, all at the same time.  No herb is completely safe, just like no drug, even simple aspirin, is completely safe.  This does not mean people should quake in fear instead of using herbal medicinals.  I'm not a fan of all those scary warnings that people put into posts.  I feel that anyone with common sense should be able to work with herbs.  I think the problem with all the warnings that we get on wild medicinal sites is that many people today learned herbs from books.  And anyone who has ever written a book knows that publishers don't let them go out with anything that might get them sued.  So books often contain more warnings in them than are needed (IMHO).  

I was once shown that in 'Peterson's Guide to Edible Plants of the East' it said that wild columbine was potentially toxic.  Heck, as a child my brothers and I would fight over who got to eat the most columbine flowers.  I made it to 46 years old without dropping over dead.  lol

Some warnings just bug the crap out of me. Such as "don't gather wild edibles near roadsides."  When I read this warning I often wonder if people know where their farm food comes from.  Most of that food in the grocery store was planted by diesel spewing tractors, in fields covered with chemicals, that are close to the road so the farmer doesn't have to drive miles in to plant and harvest his crop.  Why are there no warnings on THAT?  It would still be safer to gather dandelions growing on the side of the road than eating some of the stuff on the store shelves!

Still, warnings are not a bad thing.  All information should be given, so that people can make informed decisions.  People just need to not read warnings and then give up on working with wild medicinals or herbs because of them.

I always say that there are light and dark medicines, meaning some medicines are easy to work with and have few bad effects on the body.  Others are harder to work with and can be dangerous in wrong situations but life savers in others.  It is up to the person to use their judgement on whether they should use it or not.  Then, (just to confuse some) even the light medicines should be known that they can have some harmful effects, while some poisons can be used to help.  The three examples I give when I do plant walks are wild rosehips, black cherry, and bloodroot.

Wild rosehips are a pretty light medicine.  I add them to many tinctures or syrups that I am making.  If I'm making a yarrow tea for fever I will often toss in a handful of rose hips for the added boost of vitamin C.  A body often craves that dose of C when its immune system is working overtime.  When teaching about wild rosehips I don't worry that someone will use it the wrong way because if they overdose on wild rosehips, their body will just shed the extra with no damage done.  Now, there is one problem with this way of thinking.  Our bodies shed vitamin C by pulling moisture out of our tissue, diluting the vitamin C and then sending it out in either urine, soften stool, or through sweat.  If you already have diarrhea, you certainly don't want any extra vitamin C.  But in our modern day world where we have plenty of safe water to drink, losing a bit of moisture from our tissue is no big deal.  Just drink water to replace it.  In a survival situation where your water may be limited, you might want to not overdose on any vitamin C rich foods.  However right now, the little bit of problem that can be cause by overdosing on rosehips is well offset by the good it does for your immune system.

If you just read those warning about rosehips and decided that you are never going to try that "dangerous" herb, you take warnings waaayyyy too seriously.  Rosehips are safer than most things we put into and onto our bodies.

The next medicine is black cherry, of which we use the inner bark.  This is a 50/50 light/dark medicine.  As long as you gather the inner bark after the leaves have grown to full size in the summer and before the leaves start dying back in the fall, you have a safe and wonderful cough medicine.   I like to either heat the bark in water over a low heat on the stove for a few hours, then mix it with honey (this is for a fast cough medicine) or put the bark into honey and let it set in a dark place for at least six months for a longer lasting but slower cough medicine.  Heck, I might even add a handful of dried rosehips to that too.

But if you gather black cherry inner bark when there are no leaves on the tree, such as this time of year, there is a poison similar to cyanide in it.  It is in the leaves while they are on the tree, but when the leaves die back, that poison goes back into the tree.  For an adult it wouldn't probably kill you, but both children and cattle have died from eating the wrong parts of the black cherry at the wrong time.  So this wonderful and very safe medicine if you gather it in the summer, can potentially become a killer if you gather it in the winter. As I said, almost straight up 50/50 for light and dark medicine.

The last herb I talk about is bloodroot.  Bloodroot is a poison.  If you eat the juices raw you will regret it or you won't live to regret it.  If you have delicate skin and the raw juices drop onto your skin, it can burn a hole in your skin.  If you get bloodroot juice in a cut, you will know it.  It's like getting acid drop into your skin.  Not fun at all.  This is a dark, dark medicine.  People can get hurt if they gather, prepare, and use it the wrong way.

So then why use it?  Because sometimes our greatest poisons are our strongest medicines.  Bloodroot, simmered in olive oil with some plantain (and comfrey too if you want) for overnight, then mixed with beeswax is called black salve.  This is true black salve, not the fake stuff some people call black salve.  True black salve will ALWAYS have bloodroot in it.  

Black salve can by dabbed onto skin cancer and it will eat only the cancer cells and it will eat ALL the cancer cells.  It is something that is used with caution because often the cancer you see on the outside is only the tip of the iceberg.  There are people who had a small skin tag on their nose who dabbed a bit of black salve onto it and they lost a good part of their nose because the cancer had spread under the skin.  I have used black salve on an older friend who had small irregular "moles" on his arms.  One, the black salve did nothing to, it was not cancerous.  Two others, the black salve turned the cancer hard as a rock and after two weeks, it just fell out.  Black salve can save lives.

If that is not enough, when I was a very small girl one of my father's brother cut himself with an ax.  It was in winter and the wound was forgotten about under all his winter cloths until it really began to hurt.  By the time he really got around to dealing with it weeks later it had begun to go gangrenous.  If you have ever smelled gangrene, you will never forget that sickly sweet smell of rotting flesh.  It stays with your forever.  My uncle smeared black salve over the wound and the salve ate all the unhealthy tissue, leaving him with a huge scar, but he lived.  So this dark medicine, that should only be used in dire need, can save a life.

Light and dark medicine is something that most healers know about, even if they use terms that they are more comfortable with.  When you take your medicine into your own hands, whether it be from a doctor's care or from  your garden, or from the wilds, you must always take care.  But that doesn't mean you don't heal yourself because of fear.  Medicine is part of life, even many animals will get to certain clays or eat plants to feel better.  Ever see your dog eating grass to throw up?  Medicines need to be respected, some more than others, but not feared so much we don't use them.  Most of our modern day, lab created medicines are just as dangerous.  It is just in our society they are advertised with flashy logos so they seem normal to take, while picking a leaf is...well...weird.  A hundred years ago, it would have been the opposite.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Eggshell Medicine and Their Other Uses

My chickens are starting to really rev up on their laying again.  Actually, this winter they didn't slow down as much as they usually do.  While this is just a guess, I think it is because the winter was so warm and the girls were able to wander around instead of having to stay in their coop huddled around the beer can heater.  So, I have more eggs this week than I can use and I haven't upped my selling of them to keep up with their laying.  When this happens, and the kids start seeing the egg cartons pile up in the spring house, they start asking for angel food cake and flan.  Last night I gave in and made it.  Not that I needed a whole lotta persuasion, I like those things too.  Making these things leaves me with a good amount of eggshells, so I pealed out the membrane, washed up the shells and dried them off over the wood burning stove.

Eggshells are just as important as the eggs inside them here in this house.  We really, truly can't get enough of them.  When I found out one of my friend, who raises her own chickens, was just throwing them out, I asked her to save them for me.  After finding out all the uses for them, she decided she and her family needed them more than I did.

Now, when I'm talking about using eggshells, I'm talking about those of us that raise our own laying hen and therefor our own eggs.  If you don't or can't raise your own, I understand, but see if you have people around you that do that will sell you some.  Home raised eggs and their shells are SO different from the ones you buy in stores.  The shells are thicker, chemicals aren't used to clean the shells, the shells aren't waxed, and the eggs themselves are higher in healthy amino acids than their distant store bought relatives.   The main difference is this case is that eggs raised on a home farm tend to not be exposed to as many bacteria as eggs from a factory farm and so the shells are safer to use.  If you can't find farm raised eggs, make sure to sterilize your eggs shells by baking them in a 220 degree oven for a couple of minutes to kill any nasty stuff that may be on them.

So on to the uses.  Most people who raise their own laying hens will have done several of these uses, but just in case, here are some I know.  Please list your uses so I can add it to my list of reasons I wish I had more eggshells.

First is that eggshells are pure calcium.  If the chickens can't scratch or aren't given some sort of calcium supplements (such as oyster shells), their bones will get weaker and the eggshells will get thinner.  The chicken uses the calcium from their own body to make the shells.  So you can feed them back to your chickens to help keep them healthy.  If you think of this as cannibalism, many birds will eat the eggshells after the chicks hatch just to keep predators from finding the chicks.  It is natural for birds to eat their own eggshells.

You can also grind it up and sprinkle it over your dog food and cat food.  Predatory animals need a good amount of calcium and most cat and dog food does not have enough in it.  We put some in the hog slop to keep their bones strong too.  Even though we have heritage breed pigs, they still can put on weight so fast their skeleton can't support them.  The more modern breeds of pigs are bred to put on lots of weight really fast.  Their skeleton can literally collapse from all the extra weight they carry.

Of course we humans can use it the same way too.  Calcium deficiency is on the rise in industrial countries because we are eating poorer diets.  Too little calcium leads to bone deterioration, thinning hair, and what most people notice, receding gum lines.  Eggshells is what our hunter/gatherer ancestors use to eat and so our bodies have evolved into being able to assimilate this calcium into our system.  Not into eating eggshells?  Well, an eggshell tincture worked even better.

This is the one I made last night.  If you want to make one, they are quite easy to do.  First crush up your eggshells and put them into a jar with a cover.  Then you cover them with an acid.  Apple cider vinegar works best because it helps aid in digestion and makes sure your body can absorb most of the calcium in the shells, but lemon juice works too.  Don't fill the jar all the way to the top though because you can see when you combine the alkaline of the eggshells with the acid of the vinegar, foaming does occur.  Shake this a couple time a day for about ten days.  No need to strain this tincture.  The acid is slowly dissolving the eggshells and making them easy to drink.  As long as there are still eggshells in the jar, you can keep adding more acid over them.  This one jar with about 7 eggshells in it will last me 6 to 9 months.  This can be tweaked for extra minerals by adding some nettle and/or horsetail tincture to it.  Either way, this is a better source of calcium than those pills some people take because this is what our bodies already know how to consume.

Other medical uses for eggshells are as an antacid.  If you even hear the Tums commercials they always tote that it is 'Tums with calcium'.  Yep, that's because calcium neutralizes acid (it is an alkaline).  By crumbling up eggshells and taking a spoonful if you have over indulged, you are doing the same thing without all the artificial colors and flavors of tums.  If you still need a bit of flavor to help the eggshells go down, make a thick paste of honey and eggshells and take a spoonful of that.

For the garden, eggshells can be added in bulk to help neutralize acid soil as well.  It take a great deal of eggshells to do this, but adding them with hardwood ash will make acid soil be able to grow many more crops than it could before.  In smaller amounts, eggshells add calcium back to the dirt your food is grown in. Those plants use this calcium and will be stronger and also will give you more calcium when you consume them after harvest.  Ground up eggshells sprinkled around tomato plants will help prevent blossom end rot, a disease that is caused by too little calcium.  Some people go as far as starting their tomatoes in eggshells to give them that extra boost in calcium.  Then they plant the whole thing, eggshell and all, deep into the garden.  Roughly broken up eggshells will help keep things like slugs and snails away from your plants because they don't want to crawl over the sharp eggshells.

For another use for eggshells, we turn to science and see what they are up to.  A study out of Denmark is showing that a thick eggshell tincture made of lemon juice and abraded eggshells (don't ask me what is different between abraded eggshells and crush eggshells) are helping young children with stress born food allergies.  The eggshells are sterilized in a 220 degree oven (important for children because of their undeveloped immune system), then abraded into a small amount of lemon juice.  This is given to young children 3 times a day.  Studies are showing the the food allergies can disappear in as little as 2 weeks.   It is an interesting study that I am keeping an eye on to see what it is in the eggshells that help children overcome stress.

Moving on from the shell itself is that membrane that we took out before we washed the egg.  It has it's own healing uses as it is protein (the egg being the most complete natural protein known).  This membrane can be to "draw out" things that are inside our skin.  Such as if you have a sliver or tiny piece of glass you just can't get to come out, wrap a piece of eggshell membrane over it.  It acts as its own bandage and draws on the foreign object, making it easier to take out.  It can also be used over boils and blisters to draw out the moisture and pus that may lay under the skin.  If you can get enough of them, they can be wrapped around sprains and bruises to draw down the swelling.  Pimples can be brought to a head by wrapping an eggshell membrane over them and can really be helped in a thin sliver of garlic is put under the membrane.  Ingrown toenails and swollen, torn cuticles can be helped with this method too.   Again turning to science we see that they are starting to use eggshell membranes combined with household sugar on large area burns to keep infections from forming.

Eggshell membranes work best fresh, but can be dried and wetted when needed in a pinch.  Still, if you can, try to use them fresh from a chicken egg.  Duck eggs can be infected with bacteria that makes them unsafe to use the same way.

Because this post is getting really long I thought I would get to the egg itself and only put a couple uses for that (because mostly what we do with eggs is EAT them).

A hard boiled eggs crushed, shell and all and wrapped in a piece of cheese cloth can be applied to bruises to bring down swelling.  Egg whites can be beaten into a frothy cream and soothed over minor burns, including sunburns, especially if you add a couple teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to it.  This will help keep the skin from tightening up, causing more pain.

So the incredible, edible egg, as the old commercials use to say, has so many more uses.  It has been used for healing as well.  An eggshell tincture is one of the easiest home medicinals you can make, and yet can give you and yours a great deal of return.  Give it a try.  If you've been buying calcium supplements, here is a much cheaper, yet much better source.  Our bodies crave it, because our hungry ancestors use to eat the egg, shell and all.  Our genetic code remembers this and is waiting for our thinking mind to do so as well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spider Web Medicine

One of the chores I gave myself as my new years resolution was to get my basement into order.  Get rid of the crap I don't use and organize the rest so that it can be found easily in an emergency.  What good is having survival stuff if you can't find it.

So I've been down in the basement this week, finishing the project, and cleaning up cobwebs.  As the daughter of a swamp rat I have a hard time getting rid of cobwebs because of their medicinal value.  Yes, cobwebs are one of the greatest healing sources of wounds there is.  In times past this was well known, but most people today give you a funny look if you reach for a spider web to cover a cut.  But it works and science can prove it.

Spiderwebs are secreted from...well...spiders, and because of their living origins and because they are so thin, they should rot quite quickly.  The smaller something is, the faster it rots.  But spiders excrete an antimicrobial fluid that keeps the web from rotting.  This will last on the web long after the spider as deserted it.  This is why cobwebs build up in your basement instead of just disintegrating to dust.  You have to take down cobwebs, they don't do it for you.

Now science is looking into this "new" source of antibiotics because of how fast bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we have created in labs.  They are working with the bacteria Escherichia coli or E. Coli, and testing it against many different species of spider's webs.  So far every web they have tested destroys the number of E. Coli cells that are in the petri dish.  And it is only taking small amounts of the web to destroy large amounts of the E. Coli bacteria.

So the next time you get the broom or duster out to get rid of those "dirty" cobwebs, remember, they may be the cleanest thing in your house.  And if you are out int he wilds and give yourself a cut, look around, Mother Nature may provide you with the perfect healing salve in the form of a spider web.

Spiderwebs can also be wrapped around feet to help get rid of athlete's foot or bandaged onto ring worm sores to help kill the spores that cause them.

So the old swamp rat (my dad) was right when he would run his hands through the alders and gather up spider webs to wrap up our blisters from paddling the canoe all day.  It is amazing how much wisdom we have lost by letting the big chemical companies save us from all those bad germs out there.  Now those chemicals are no longer working against the new super strains of bacteria and we are "crying for our mommies" and their ancient wisdom.  Let's hope it isn't all gone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Putting the Still Together part 3

To put the still together, first put whatever you are going to use to lift your collect off the bottom of the pot into the pot.  Below is the steamer down at the bottom of the pot.

Then put your collector onto what you have to lift it off the bottom of the pot.  Here the pyrex measuring cup is sitting on the steamer.

The I put the thermometer into the pot.  Again, this isn't needed, but if the mash goes above 212 degrees F, your water will start to turn to vapor and then drop into your distilled alcohol.  This kind of defeats the purpose of separating your alcohol and water in the first place.  lol  If you don't have a thermometer, just keep an eye on your mash and don't let it boil.

Then carefully pour the mash in and around your collector so that it is in the bottom of your pot, but none in the collector, as the picture is below.  Since we are using wine, what we would be making would be brandy.  Brandy is a Welsh word meaning 'burnt wine'.  The thing is, once you get 190 proof alcohol, it really doesn't matter what you started out with, it all tastes the same.  Grain, fruit, sugar all makes the same kind of alcohol and if it gets concentrated enough, even labs can't tell the difference.


 Then fill up your condenser with something really cold.  Here in Wisconsin we have plenty of this free stuff called snow.  In the winter that is what I use because it will need to be replaced through out the distilling.  A gallon of mash may take as much as 8 hours to distill in this kind of still and that cold needs to be replaced as it gets warm.  You can use ice if you don't have snow, even really cold water will work, though not as good in this kind of still.  Running cold water works better with a worm still or still that has copper tubing as the condenser.

Now put the whole contraption on the stove (or start it out there) and turn the stove on to the lowest setting you have.   It's going to take awhile to heat up.  In fact, if it takes a couple of hours hour to heat up to 170 degrees, you have a better chance of getting rid of all the poisons in the first 1/4 of a cup of distilled liquor and you won't have to lose a whole 1/2 cup.  This is because methanol and your fusal oils turn to vapor at the lower temperatures than ethanol so you get rid of them without losing too much of "the good stuff". 

If you let your still heat up slowly, wait for about two hours before you lift off the condenser to see what is in your collector.  If you are using an electric stove, like I would be here, you can do this without turning the stove off.  But if you have an open flame stove such as gas, turn the stove off before you lift off the condenser.  This is because you will be releasing ethanol vapors which can be ignited with an open flame.  This vapor you are releasing is called "the angel's share", and depending on how buzzed you like your angels, don't leave the condenser off too long.  That vapor is your distilled spirits escaping.  In any distilling process there is always the angel's share, but you want to keep it to a minimum. 

Just check how much clear liquid you have in your collector, if it is around 1/4 to 1/2 cup, dump the collector, wipe it out with a clean, dry cloth, put it back into the pot, cover with the condenser, and you are makin' 'shine.  From here on out, everything you make is going to be drinkable.  

The liquid you just dumped out is called "the foreshot".  This is where the poisons are of the moonshine. It usually occurs in mash temperatures between 150 to 174 degrees F.  The next bit is called the "head".  It will usually have a slight scent but it won't have the really strong biting flavor (not that you should taste the foreshot) of the foreshot. This usually  occurs between mash temperature of 175 to 195 degrees F.  Some people will separate this out as well as the foreshot, because it is still has a bit of a bite.  The next batch is the "middle run".  It is the best of your 'shine.  If you are making Jack Daniels, Black Label, this is what you take off to put under that black label.  This occurs with mash temperature between 196 and 203 degrees F.  If you are a perfectionist this will be the last of your collecting.  The last cut is called the "tails" and it is pretty watery.  This will have the least amount of alcohol in it because the water in the mash is beginning to turn to vapor.  This occurs during mash temperatures of 203 to 208 degrees F.  After that, no matter what, you are done making 'shine.  If you continue to a boil, you are now just adding unflavored water back into your moonshine.

If you want to make the perfect 'shine, or what the Dukes of Hazzard's Uncle Jesse would have made, you will need to wash out your still and run the distilled spirits through a second time.  Uncle Jesse would have used a thumper barrel in a worm still to do this, but that's awful hard to set up in your kitchen.  And believe me, there is no way to explain away a thumper barrel to the cops.  There is only one use for that.  lol

These spirits you just made should be aged.  Some people say as little as 6 months, others put them into oak barrels and let them sit in caves for 10 years.  That's where that beautiful amber color comes from.  If you don't age your spirits, they can be harsh to drink.  Aging them mellows them out.

You do not need to drink booze to want to distill spirits.  I make herbal tinctures all the time and for me it is nice to know where ALL the ingredients come from for these tinctures, not just the herbal part of it.  If you were to make your own alcohol, you would know that it was made from good ingredients in a safe way.  

Knowing the basics of distilling means you can take questionable water and make it safe with the same idea (except you actually do bring the water to a low boil).  You can even make ocean water drinkable.  It actually works much better than filtering the water.  

So, even if you don't want to be caught by Johnny Law makin' your own 'shine, you can try this still in making you water safe. It is a good survival tool to know how to use and it can make a mighty fine bead (another word for the best moonshine), if only it were legal.  Since it's not, however, I know no one will try to make their own moonshine, or Old Horsey as it may be called in these parts.

Items for the Still part 2

What I would be using to distill my "mash" this afternoon if it were legal to do so is something called a disappearing or cone still.  The cone still is an ancient invention that have been described in Egyptian tomb writings.  The healing women of old made cone stills to distill water to make it safe to drink, essential oils to concentrate their healing herbs, and alcohol to make disinfectants and bases for their tinctures.

The term disappearing still comes from more modern day people who needed to be able to dismantle their still and make it disappear into the cupboards so the 'revenuers' wouldn't catch them.  Most people have what it takes to make a cone still in their kitchen right now. 

The first thing you'll need is a pot.  The bigger the pot is the more mash you can distill.  The pot should be made of heat resistant and non-reactive material.  Stainless steel is what most people would have, though copper would be better.  Copper reacts with the fusal oils that are in alcohol and make them less potent.  Fusals are another thing that can lead to hangovers.  Stainless steel works fine though.  Again, you'll just get rid of the first 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of distilled spirits that comes off the still and you'll be fine.

The second thing you will need is something for a condenser.  A stainless steel bowl or wok works the best. You can put a good amount of snow or ice into this and so you won't need to refill it as much.  If you don't have something like this though, and the lid of your pot is concave, you can use this.  You'll just have to replace the melting snow or ice faster.

The next think you'll need is a collector.  Again it needs to be heat resistant and non-reactive.  Also it needs to fit inside the pot with room to spare.  This is a pyrex measuring cup, but a glass bowl or smaller stainless steel pot will do fine too.

Then you should raise your collector off the floor of your pot.  This is a stainless steel steamer with the center post removed.  Anything heat resistant and non-reactive will work though, even small, very clean rocks.  If you can't find anything, it isn't totally needed but without it, you may lose a bit of your alcohol as it re-evaporates from being heated up sitting in the mash itself.

A digital thermometer is really helpful, though not needed.  It helps you keep the mash below 212 degrees F, the temperature that water will become vapor, but still warm enough to keep that alcohol turning to vapor.

Then you will need some sort of mash, wine or beer.  Something with alcohol.  You can use some old wine, such as this that has gone skunk (accidentally got frozen and now tastes bad).  You can use beer, such as if you buy a half barrel and can't quite finish it before you have to get the barrel back to get your deposit.  You can use your homemade wine that didn't taste quite the way you planned.  You can use sugar water that you put yeast into to ferment it.  Really, anything with alcohol that isn't already concentrated can be used.

Clean all you parts (except the mash, of course) very well, then either pour boiling water over them to disinfect them or slosh some bleach water (1 part bleach to 4 parts water) over them and then let them air out really well to get that bleach smell out of them.

These are all you should need to distill small amounts of alcohol.  I'll come back to show how to put them all together.  Again, don't do this unless you are licensed, because what I am about to show you would be illegal to do and we are all such good people we would never go against the government. ;-)

Moonshiners and Rum Runners part 1

My family has several ethnic origins, basically we're mutts.  lol  The four big ones are Norwegian, Welsh, American Indian, and German.  Many Germans settled in Wisconsin throughout the years.  They came in waves, with conquers, famine, wars, and crazy people taking over in Germany.  Often they came with traditions and little else.  One of the big German traditions to hit Wisconsin is drinking.  Yep, here we brew some of the best beer, wine and spirits and lots of those are brewed in farm kitchens and back wood glens.

When I began teaching homesteading classes, one of the biggest class that people asked for was a moonshine class.  Of course, without a license it is illegal to concentrate one drop of alcohol here in the U.S.  There are two ways of getting licences in the U.S.  One is for non-human consumption.  I have one of these.  This allows a person to brew up ethanol for mixing with their farm gas supply.  For me this lowers my fuel costs by 1/3 and with gas prices looking to sky rocket this summer, I can use all the help I can get.  I use homemade liquor to feed my tractors.  You can also get a licence for making human grade alcohol consumption.  The problem with this is it costs tons and tons of  money and is usually pretty hard for the common man to get.  But here in the U.S. and Canada it is illegal to concentrate one drop of alcohol without a licence.  You can legally make 100 gallons of wine and beer, 200 if you are married in most states, but don't concentrate it or it will be illegal. 

I know that everyone who reads this post is like me and would never do anything illegal.  You always drive the speed limit, you never download music off the internet, you've never fudged on your taxes, and you certainly would not concentrate alcohol illegally.  I can see all you halos and I assure you that my horns hold my halo up quite fine.

Having said that, I am just going to talk about simple stills from an academic way of learning.  Don't try this unless you are licenced.  

There are two ways of concentrating alcohol.  One is the more familiar way of distilling.  This uses the principle that alcohol turns to vapors at a much lower temperature than water.  So, if you can heat up a alcoholic base, often called a mash or a beere until it is hot enough to make the alcohol turn to vapors but not the water, then you cool down that vapor of alcohol and collect it, you can concentrate that alcohol.  

The second way of concentrating alcohol is a process called jacking.  Jacking uses the opposite principle that alcohol freezes at a MUCH lower temperature than water.  If you put some hard cider out the door of your house when it is below freezing, a slush of ice will form on top of it.  That ice is the water freezing, so if you take a strainer and skim that slush of ice, you have 'jacked' or concentrated the alcohol left in the container.  Now jacking doesn't concentrate the alcohol as much as distilling, but one nice thing it does is leave some of the flavor of the original mash.  Here's the thing about jacking, it is so easy to do, some people may have done it by mistake.  But don't fool yourself, if you do this, you are committing an illegal act.  To date there is no licencing in the U.S. for jacking and anything that you buy that is called jack, such as (apple)jack, is not true applejack but formed by distilling.  Do NOT leave your wine or beer outside and skim the slush off of it here in the U.S. (or at least don't get caught doing it).

There are some dangers to concentrating alcohol that for academic sake everyone should be aware of.  First is that ethanol is highly combustible.  That's why it can be used in the internal combustion engine.  When it is in vapor form it burns darn well and if in high enough amounts it can explode like a molotov cocktail.  Never have ethanol vapors around an open flame.  

Second is that alcohol can contain some things in it that can do damage to you.  The old saying is that if ethanol is a high spirited lap dog, methanol (methyl alcohol) is Cujo on steroids.  Methanol is one of the main poisons that gave moonshine its bad name to some.  Many foods, such as grapes and diet soda contains methanol is small doses (though if you suck down diet soda all day long you are getting quite a wallop of this poison-you may even feel achy because of it).  Methanol is what makes people go blind from drinking bad 'shine.  It irreversibly destroys the optic nerve.  It's part of what gives you a hangover as it does temporary (though over time it can become permanent) damage to your joints and muscles.  Let's just say you don't want a whole lotta this stuff in your finished product.

The nice thing is that it is pretty easy to separate out.  If you want to keep as much of it out of your mash in the first place, always try to brew your beer, wine, or mash at the lowest temperature possible.  The faster a mash brews, the more methanol you're going to have in your brew.  This includes if you are making wine or beer.  Cold fermenting makes better tasting, and safer wine.  Of course, you can only brew it so cool before the yeast will simply not work and sometimes you are distilling someone else's mash and you have no idea how good of a brewer they are so there is a way to keep it out of your 'shine.

First and foremost, heat the still SLOWLY.  Don't crank up the heat and bring your mash to a boil.  I read this once on the internet and darn near tried to beat my screen down to get to the person who wrote it.  These are the people who made "bathtub" gin or the crap that gives rum runners a bad name.  Heat your mash up in the still just as slowly as possible.  Second, discard the first 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of distilled liquor that comes out of the still.  You don't have to throw this away, it can still be used externally, but to be safe, don't drink it.  Follow those two simple rules and you will get rid of most if not all of the methanol that comes from the whole process.

Now, I am not distilling tonight, that would be illegal, but for academic sake I will take some pictures of what would happen if I was distilling on a very simple still that most people can make right now in their own kitchen.  Once people get the basics of distilling down, they find it to be quite easy to do and wonder why there was all this fuss made about it in the first place.  

For many old timers, distilling is just another part of the harvest.  We freeze, can, dehydrate, pickle, kraut, fat over, ferment, brew and distill the harvest that comes from nature and our gardens.  This way we can use what we grew as time goes on instead of having to consume it all at once in a feast or famine way of life.  Distilling creates alcohol which can be used to preserve other food, be used in medicines, be used in cleaning supplies and disinfectants, and can be passed around in a mason jar with friends around the winter's fire.  We didn't get into it to tick off the government or to become romantic outlaws.  We distilled because that is what our ancestors did for hundreds of years before there were laws that limited our freedoms. We did it to barter, we did it to survive.  

It is time that we take back our freedom to survive and tell big business AND big government they can make their way just like us.  I tip my glass to that idea (if it were legal to do so).

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

All of we homesteaders and farmers have such good advice to give and for each of us our advice is very important.  But sometimes we each have our quirks that may not be good or right for others.  That's why, when I give advice, I have no problem if the person I'm giving it to doesn't take it.  For me, it is very important, for them, it may be meaningless.

Such is the advice I was given when I first started raising calves.  "Don't name them or you won't be able to butcher them."  I have heard this and read this often enough to know that this must be true for many people.  When I first started raising calves they were known only by their numbers.  The problem with that is I learned their personality just as much with that kind of name as I would have if I had called them Fred or Spot.  I mean Cow 6 was a great little heifer that I was determined to keep right up until her mother had problems with birthing.  I could not keep an offspring of an animal that could never be used for milking again.  Not when most highlander heifers can drop a calf with little or no work.  You don't breed that weakness into a cow, especially a heritage breed, so you don't keep that kind of bloodline.  She was butchered at 18 months.  Names, whether they be Bessie or Heifer 12 don't mean all that much to me.  It's the personality behind the names that can make me second guess why I do this.

I then started naming all my animals, even the baby goslings if I could tell them apart.  I gave them the respect that all animals should be given in life.  They were raised lovingly by someone who truly wanted them to have the best life they could have.  And they were butchered humanely without the horrors that many animals in the modern day meat markets go through.   I can remember most of my animals fondly (except the killer roosters that went to freezer camp because they deserved it), and can tell stories about some of their antics.  And yes, I can butcher them.  I respect every life that has been sacrificed for mine.  

Turns out that studies support this way of thinking.  When animals are raised humanely and with respect they are healthier.   This keeps us from having to give them so many medicines.  All those chemicals are stored in their flesh and when we eat them, it becomes part of ours.  When animals are raised in happy homes their bodies release less stress hormones.  Stress hormones make their flesh taste bad.  Anyone who butchers animals know that the calmer they can keep their animals, the more tender the meat.  Turns out the calmer the animal lives their WHOLE life, the more tender the meat.  When animals are raised with respect, the same respect we demand of hunters who hunt, the same respect we give to those who show reverence to whatever life they take, the same respect that we, ourselves crave, they give back a better meat when we consume them later.

Funny, but studies show all this same information for plants as well.  Plants that are grown with less stress are more nutritious than plants that are grown in too crowded conditions and in soil that is low in natural fertilizer.  Those of us who raise our own tomatoes know this when we bite into one of those red Styrofoam balls the grocery stores call tomatoes.  Home grown veggies and meat always taste better than store bought.

So, while it is important for some to stay at arms length from the animals that they will one day consume, I will always give them names, love them, hug them and thank them for their sacrifice.   They and I deserve no less.  I will treat the ones that give their lives so I can live, whether they be plant or animal, with all the gratefulness I possess. I will not put anything not sacred into my sacred body.  I'm worth that.

4 Wheel Drive Does Not Make a Driver Invincible

My aunt, who lives outside the valley, sent me this picture of what is happening right now.  It never fails, we get a bit of snow and some four wheel drive SUV is found on its roof.  It's like people can not figure out that the extra 7 seconds they save by driving fast is NOT worth the chance.  At least it is an ambulance at the scene, not the coroner.   I can do nothing but shake my head.  Slow down, smell the roses.  It just may save your life.

This is me being Pi$$y.  Sorry for the rant.  I hope the driver is okay and that when they are, their insurance goes through the roof so they can't drive anymore.  That might save us all.