October 23, 2017

Weeds that are Actually Medicine, Sumac

Winged sumac I found
 on a recent foraging trip
I have always found the sumac to be beautiful in its structure and enjoy the interest it brings to a landscape, but it wasn't until I started gaining knowledge of the healing properties of plants, that I found out how valuable sumac is to health. Sumac grows wild throughout the Sub-tropical regions of  the world, like Greece, Turkey and the Middle East and in the United States in the Southeast and Southwest. You will see it growing wild here in North Carolina in hedgerows, at the edges of pastures and along the road slightly under the canopy of trees. But you will also see it grown as an element of landscaping in the yards of older homes and in old abandoned country "home places".

Much like Goldenrod, Sumac has gotten a bad rap... I can't tell you how many times people have told me to look out for the "Poison Sumac" when I tell them I am going out to forage for sumac. So to start with I am going to say this... unless you are wading into a marsh to forage for Cattails, you will never be in danger of running into poison sumac, more on this later in the post. Sumac, from the genus of Rhus, is a large woody shrub raging from 3ft to as high as 30 ft, depending on species. They have pinnate leaves, feather-like leaf divisions arising on either side of a center axis, like a palm frond or a fern. The leave "fronds" are arranged in a spiral formation around the branches. The flowers form in dense pannicles of tiny greenish to creamy white flowers. The fruit drupes that form in a cluster known as a"bob", are reddish purple and borne above the leaves The Sumac bobs ripen in August to September in our area, but if weather is dry in the fall you can still find some sumac that is fit to pick as late as October.

There are many varieties of sumac in the U.S.A. Here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, the most common species are the Winged Sumac and the Smooth Sumac, but I have seen the Staghorn sumac, that is usually found in the mountains of western N.C., growing here in the here in the Piedmont as well. Usually the Staghorn sumac found wild in the Piedmont has been planted as a landscape feature by human hands and the birds have scattered the seed in the wild places. On my most recent sumac search I found all three varieties in a hours drive through the country. You can do an online search for the varieties that grow in your locale, there are usually even some good photos of what the species look like.

Winged sumac air drying 
Sumac is both edible and medicinal. It has strong anti-oxidant properties due to the amount of vitamin C it contains, but it is also, an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, an anti-fungal, particularly for  aspergillus fungus which causes lung infections and infections other organs. It reduces blood sugar levels, which makes it a useful herb for diabetics, and has anti-cancer properties. An infusion of sumac bark or roots taken over a period of time can make positive alterations to the state of ones health. It is an antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, it increases the production of breast milk, can stop bleeding but also stimulates the circulatory system dilating the capillaries for better blood flow.Sumac berry's tangy flavor is the result of a high content of malic acid, citric acid, fumaric acid and ascorbic acid. For purposes of preparedness, sumac is a valuable source of foragible Vit C. Since in many scenarios, getting enough vitamin C could be very difficult. The barks and roots of sumac can be used  in an infusion as an antiseptic, as an astringent, a diuretic. It is used in alternative medicine for the treatment of colds, fever, diarrhea. It is used to treat mouth sores, sore throat and other inflammation of the mucous membranes. It helps with rectal bleeding, inflammation of the urinary tract and painful urination. An infusion of  the leaves is used for asthma and diarrhea. Chewing the leaves will give relief to sore gums and rubbing the chewed leaves on lips will soothe cracked dry lips.

The leaves can be harvested and used fresh or collected while they are still green and dried for later use, the bark can be collected at any time and dried or peeled and used fresh when needed. For medicinal purposes, use one tsp. of either bark or leaves steeped 1/2 hour hot water. When cool consume 2-4 cups a day. Use as a gargle or mouthwash for oral issues. In tincture, a dose is 10-20 drops in some water 2 times a day.

Now for a few words about poison sumac before I go on to talk about harvesting, storing and using sumac. Sumac, Rhus coriaria  and Poison Sumac,  Toxicodendron vernix, are members of the same family as poison ivy  and cashews. Poison sumac grows in boggy areas and wetlands. In North Carolina it is only found in Coastal areas and swampy areas of the Sandhills. It is also found in the swamps of the deep south and marshy areas throughout the New England and Great Lake states. The plant grows directly in the water or in the boggy areas very close to the water. It is a shrub or small tree. The leaves can look similar to poison ivy and the stem that connect the leaflets to the branches are red and some of the leaves, particularly the newest leaves have a reddish tinge. The woody parts of the plant are grey and smooth, and the mature berries which are borne underneath the leaves in loose clusters, are greenish white. To get into poison sumac is unlikely unless you are wading in a marsh, foraging cattail or wapato in areas where it is common. But if you are likely to do that, it would be advisable to know what it looks like and to steer clear of it, because it is extremely irritating to the skin, like poison ivy on steroids... The blisters go very deep and can persist for weeks on end. 

Although there are a few similarities, Poison Sumac's white berries and the fact that grows in marshy situations, 
where edible sumac has red berries and prefers a dry environment, makes it pretty easy to tell Poison Sumac
 from  the edible, medicinal sumac.

Start watching for the ripening sumac in August. It is possible to still find viable bobs well into October but they earlier ones will be more likely to have the highest content of malic and ascorbic acid. To harvest Sumac, look for plants that are in open places, away from traffic and road runoff. Also it is important to look at the ground and make sure that there is no swaths of dead brown vegetation that would indicate that an herbicide has been sprayed in the area. Choose fresh bobs that have no mold or insect infestations and cut the bob stems an inch or so below the last berries in the cluster. Some varieties are fuzzy and thickly clustered together, (Staghorn sumac), other are loosely clustered with shiny berries sticky with malic acid, (Winged sumac). All varieties are useful.

Staghorn sumac in the fall.

To dry the sumac bobs, spread them out in an area that gets good air circulation, but is out of the weather. Turn the bobs every couple days to make sure they are drying uniformly. They should be dry enough to grind in a week or so. A dehydrator on fan, no heat, can be used as well. I have a mesh hanging dryer made by Stack!t that I use to dry my sumac and I am very happy with the results. 
In dry weather the Stack!t hangs under the cover of our veranda. If it is rainy,
 I hang it in the house and point a box fan at it.

One hint, the berries that are sticky do not ever seem dry due to the amount of sticky residue on the berries but after a week or so the skin on the berry will be dry enough for grinding. Once dry, the berries can be stored as bobs in an airtight container for use later or they can separated from the stems and picked through for undesirable berries and then the remaining berries can be ground in a spice mill just long enough to loosen the dried fruit from the seeds.Then sift through a flour sifter or strainer with mesh large enough to let the fruit flakes go through but small enough to keep the seeds in the strainer. If all the fruit fibers didn't come off the first time through, return to the spice mill and sift again until all the fruit fibers have been removed. The red flakes that come off the seeds are what can be made into za'atar or other seasonings.

Here is a simple recipe for Za'atar:

1/4 cup dried and ground sumac fruit
2 Tblsp. dried thyme
1 Tblsp. white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp. sea salt or dulse

Combine and mix well. Store in an airtight jar and use within a year, since ground sumac loses its potency over time. The Za'atar can be used to season chicken or fish,sprinkled on soft cheese or hummus, but my favorite thing to do with it is to brush pita bread with extra virgin olive oil and freshly pressed garlic, then sprinkle a nice thick coat on of the za'atar on top and broil until the top of the spice is lightly toasted. I cut it like a pizza and serve with a Mediterranean meal or as an appetizer with hummus. Yum!

Sumac bobs may be soaked for several hours or overnight in room temperature water, then strained and sweetened with honey for sumac-ade, a natural look alike for pink lemonade. Since hot water draws out the tannins, making the water bitter, only use room temperature water for making sumac beverages. 

Sumac is also a very effective agent for tanning hides for leather since it is high in tannins. The tannins also make sumac a desirable plant for those who dye yarn or fabric, since they do not need a mordant. The tannins also make for color fast dyes in colors ranging from beige and yellow to pinkish red and black, depending on what part of the plant is used.

So, this sadly misunderstood plant is actually of great value to the forager, healer, tanner and dyer. As a Prepper, knowing where to find the medicinal herbs and forage foods in your area is a good idea. I hope you will keep your eyes peeled for stand of sumac to forage from and maybe add them to your herbal pharmacy and forage pantry!   

The above information is for educational purposes and is not intended to treat or diagnose illness. It is the responsibility of the individual to research and educate themselves before making health choices for themselves and their families.

October 11, 2017

Weeds that are Actually Medicine, Goldenrod

Starting in late September the fields in our area are covered in swaths of tall spires of golden yellow flowers waving in the breeze. It is a lovely sight. These flowers are Solidago, commonly known as Goldenrod,  a member of the Asteraceae family. Goldenrod has many positive attributes, not only is it pretty in masses in the fields, it is a favorite forage plant for bees in the autumn. The flowers are used to produce a warm yellow dye to color fabrics and yarn, but most importantly, the golden rod plant has medicinal properties.

Goldenrod has many medicinal uses. It is an antiseptic, astringent, it is anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, a carmative, ( reduces gastro-intestinal gas), and promotes sweating and urination for detoxification. It it reduces excess mucous and irritation caused by allergies, is helpful in treating urinary tract issues, can be used as a gargle for congestion in the larynx, and can be applied topically to wounds to promote healing.

It is easy to identify Goldenrod when in bloom, due to it's crown of golden flowers. The fields and hedgerows are thick with them from mid September through October. They can range in height from knee high to head high, depending on the age and location of the plant.  Goldenrod has a woody stem and thin, ovate leaves that are in opposing pairs along the stem.

A head of goldenrod flowers.

The stem is woody and the leaves are long, oval and arranged in
opposing pairs along them stem.
Goldenrod is often blamed for fall allergies, but it is not Goldenrod that is the culprit, it is Common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Ragweed really looks nothing like Goldenrod, it has unremarkable flowers of light yellow borne atop stems that have ferny deeply cut leaves. It produces volumes of air borne pollen that torment fall allergy sufferers, Unfortunately, it visually fades into the background, letting Goldenrod's tall spires of bright golden flowers take the blame for all the itchy, watery eyes and runny noses. In truth, Goldenrod has no air borne pollen at all, instead it has sticky resin-like pollen that clings to the feet and bodies of insects that visit its flowers. You literally can't inhale Goldenrod pollen. One of Goldenrod's medicinal uses is to alleviate the allergy symptoms caused by ragweed.

Deeply cut ferny leaves of Ragweed
Ragweed flowers
To harvest Goldenrod, cut the top 1/3 of the plant when the flowers are in full bloom, strip the large leaves off on the woody part of the stem. Leave the woody stem so that hanging the herbs to dry is easier, but if just using in tincture trim off the woody part and tincture only the flowers, small leaves and soft parts of the stem.

A closeup of the Goldenrod flowers
will help make sure identification is easy.

This is what Goldenrod looks like in situation.

 There are many ways to preserve Goldenrod. It can be made into a tincture or it may be infused in a crockpot with honey, strained and bottled for use with those who can't tolerate alcohol or for children. It can be made into lozenges by infusing in honey or heavy sugar syrup and boiling to"hard crack" on a candy thermometer and then pouring into molds. It can be dried and used as an infusion for tea or ground and made into capsules or used as an ingredient in a poultice. With all the different ways it can be used, it is good to preserve some as tincture and some in dried form to allow for flexibility in use as needs arise.

To prepare the Goldenrod for tincture, pick through and remove anything that was cut in the field that was not Goldenrod, grass, other plants, dead pieces of flotsome. Today Skittles decided to "help" with this part of the process...

Cut the Goldenrod into small pieces, removing the thick woody pieces, but leaving the soft stem and leaves.

I tincture my medicinal herbs in 190 proof grain alcohol that I have previously tinctured with organic lemon peel. Lemon peel is full of essential oils that are anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-viral... with that many "anti" properties lemon essential oil will boost the healing properties of the any herbs being tinctured.

Fill the container tightly, half way with plant matter and then fill to where the neck of the jar narrows with your alcohol of choice. I use 190 proof grain alcohol, but I live close to South Carolina where it is legal to sell 190 proof. Here in North Carolina the strongest you can get is 100 proof. You can use either grain alcohol or vodka of the highest proof you can purchase.

I then put a Ziploc type sandwich bag in the mouth of the jar and lightly press into the surface of the liquid. Once I am sure the plastic covers the surface of the liquid I slowly fill the bag with water to 3/4 from the top of the jar. Then I push out the remaining air and zip the bag closed, fold the top of the bag into the 3/4 in head space and cover tightly with a lid. I do this step to make sure that all the plant mater is well below the alcohol, to prevent molding.  Invert the bottle of tincture every day for the first week and then once or twice a week for another 5 weeks. After the six weeks has passed, strain the tincture through cheesecloth, squeeze out all the liquid, bottle and tightly cap then label with the date it was poured off and store.

The herb can be dried for use later or for making teas and poultices by tying 2 or 3 stems together and hanging in an area with good air circulation that is protected from the weather.  I hang mine from the rafters of the vaulted ceiling in my sitting room, but I also have a Stack!t air drying gadget that works for small quantities. It hangs outside under the cover of our veranda to catch the breeze.

I have lots of room in the rafters of our sitting room to hang herbs to dry.

The stack!t works great indoors or outside,
 but I prefer to hang it in the breeze if it is nice outside.

The Stack!t is great for drying small quantities of herbs and
since it has sections, it is easy to dry more
than one kind of herb at a time.
The dried plant material can be roughly ground up and infused into tea or finely ground and loaded into capsules, (I use 00 capsules and a Capsule Machine, both can be purchased at www.mountainroseherbs.com). Dried plant material should be stored in a cool place, in a tightly capped jar stored out of the light.  Goldenrod tincture should be stored at full strength in tightly capped amber bottles and kept in a cool, dark place. Tinctures of 100% alcohol or 100% honey infused with herbs will keep indefinitely. Once diluted the tincture's clock begins ticking... it will store for several years, but will eventually lose it's potency).

For use as a tincture or honey infusion, dilute 1:5 with water and take 1/2 -1 tsp. 3 times a day, (it will go down better with a little honey).  If making a tea, infuse 3 tsp. in an 8 oz. cup of hot water and allow to steep 15-20 minutes, then strain and drink with a little honey. This also should be consumed 3 times daily.

So now is the time to go out and harvest some goldenrod while it is in full bloom and get some tincture and dried herb ready at hand. It is best to harvest Goldenrod deep in a field or along a woods edge away from traffic exhaust fumes and road run off. If you have a park nearby that is a good place to harvest away from traffic and spraying. If you can't get it anywhere else look for low traffic country roads and get back at least 50 feet off the road to harvest. Be sure to wear long pants and boots and watch for snakes and fire ant hills. Of course, you should never go on fenced private land without asking permission, so if you find a prime crop of Goldenrod behind a fence, tempting as it may be, leave it if you can't find the owner to ask permission.

 I have posted a step by step tutorial on how to make a tincture on another blog post. Here is the link: https://aprepperspantryjournal.blogspot.com/2016/11/its-tincture-time-again.html

                                                                                                        Happy Wildcrafting!

The above information is for educational purposes and is not intended to treat or diagnose illness. It is the responsibility of the individual to research and educate themselves before making health choices for themselves and their families.

July 29, 2017

Weeds that are Actually Medicine, Elderberries

This is the time of year when the lyrics "Feelin fine on elderberry wine", from Elton John's song "Elderberry Wine", come to mind... It is elderberry season! I saw that the berries were ripe as I drove out to do errands the other day and a friend and I spent some lovely time this morning foraging for those ripe blacky purple berries.  This was no spur of the moment thing though; I made mental note in early May of where the best flower clusters were and have been checking back periodically to take photos for this post and to see how they are doing. Elderberries in our area usually ripen around the 1st of August. The harvest will go on for a few weeks, the top clusters ripening first and the rest of the bush ripening a little later on. The top berries are always the most beautiful berries, plump and juicy since they receive the best sun exposure. I call these "bird berries", since at 10 feet up there is no way I can reach them, so these berries are for the birds and for the continuation of the species... 

Elderberry wine, might make you feel fine, but if you really want to feel fine, use elderberries for their immune boosting and healing capabilities. Beyond the fact that elderberries are a great antioxidant, and very high in vitamin C, elderberries can help you stay healthy during cold and flu season and if you are unfortunate enough to get a cold or the flu taking elderberry can reduce the length of a cold or the flu by an average of 4 days. They can ease allergy symptoms and reduce the inflammation of a sinus infection. Elderberry can lower blood sugar levels and has been proven to be an anti-carcinogenic, so they can help to prevent cancer.  Elderberries taste good so getting a children to take it is a breeze!

I love to forage, I always feel so close to God when I am out in nature gathering food and medicine from the wild. It is provision for sustenance and healing that comes straight from creation! When foraging for elderberries, as with any plant taken from the wild,  it is important to be able to make a correct identification and to harvest responsibly.  I am careful to leave more than I harvest when foraging for anything in the wild, so that there is plenty of seed to fall to the ground to grow new plants and to keep the birds well fed. But more importantly I make sure that I am well educated on the identifying characteristics of the plants I forage. As with many edible or medicinal plants in the wild, elderberry has some unfriendly "look-a likes", so it is important to know what you are picking.

 There are actually several plants that resemble elderberry, particularly when in bloom. Commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace, the wild carrot has umbrella shaped flower clusters similar to elderberry, but then so does water hemlock, the most poisonous plant found growing wild in North America. And then there is Hercules Club, also sometimes called the toothache tree, which has blooms and berries that are very similar to elderberry. It was used to treat tooth-aches by Native Americans, but is generally considered toxic. I tell you all this not to scare you off from foraging, but to show you how to forage with safety and confidence. 

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra,  is native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It is a woody shrub that can reach 10-12 feet in height. The trunk and branches are covered in bark, the stems that hold the berries can be greenish pink, (look lower down the plant to find bark on the main trunk and branches, if it is green and smooth all the way to the ground then it is NOT elderberry), the leaves are pinnate, (have leaflets arranged on either side of the stem, usually opposite each other). The leaves are serrated, with the veins running to the tips of the serrations or fading away before reaching the serrations.  There are umbrella- like clusters of cream to white, 5 petaled flowers in late spring.  It bears deep purple to black berries in late July to early September, depending on what temperature zone it is growing in.  The berries have medicinal properties as well as being useful for making wines, syrups, and  jellies. The juice of the berries is edible, but it is prudent to strain out the seeds as they are not edible and in quantity can be toxic, (much like apples, eat the fruit but not the seeds). 

 Elderberry flowers are a light cream to white in color with 5 petals and stamens that are arranged between petals. They appear on the scene in late Spring. They have a delicate scent and are useful in making teas, syrups and cordials. I prefer to pass on picking the flowers so that there will be lots of berries for use in making tonics and cough syrup later in the season. They are medicinal and can be used in tea or syrup form to treat sinus and allergy issues.

In late may the flowers have set fruit and the berries are getting bigger.
Berries are ripe and ready for picking a little early this year in the Piedmont of NC,
 start checking for ripe berries in late July, just to be safe, but most years they are ripe
in early August.

Elderberry leaves have fine veins that meander across the leaf fading away or
in some cases terminating at the tips.

Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota, is a native of Europe and Southeast  Asia, but has been naturalized in North America. It is a member of the carrot family and when young and tender is edible, but in my opinion not worth the trouble to forage and prepare, and due to its similarity to the fatally poisonous water hemlock, unless you are a seasoned forager, I recommend you skip foraging wild carrot. The plants stand in meadows and waste places and along the edges of plowed fields. It has umbrella shaped clusters of white flowers with a tiny burgundy "heart" set in the middle of the cluster. The plant has ferny leaves and stands up to 3 feet tall. 

Although the flowers of Queen Anne's Lace are similar to elderberry flowers, only in the deep south will they ever be blooming at the same time as elderberry. The height of the plant and it's ferny leaves are a dead give away that they are not elder flowers. Even if you mistook them for elder flowers, you are safe, since they aren't toxic.

Water Hemlock,  Cicuta douglasii, the most poisonous plant in the North America, has flowers alarmingly similar to elderberry and Queen Anne's lace. Where it would not hurt you to mistake Queen Anne's Lace for elderberry, water hemlock would most likely prove fatal if you made a tea or syrup from its flowers. Water Hemlock blooms at the same time as elderberry and the flowers are similar. Fortunately, there are some details that will help you not to make a fatal mistake. Hemlock does not produce berries, so there is less likelihood of mistaking hemlock for elderberry if you wait for berries to be evident. Water hemlock has an herbaceous stem, hollow, smooth and green, sometimes with pale burgundy spots  or stripes on the stems. Elderberry trunk and branches are covered with silvery grey bark so if it has a woody bark it is not water hemlock. Although elderberry can be found in wet areas, it is far more likely to be water hemlock if you find it growing in marshes or in a water course. Checking the stem is a good way to tell them apart.  Like elderberry, hemlock had pinnate, serrated leaves, but where elderberry leaves have fine veins that terminate at the tips, hemlock has pronounced veins that go across the leaves and terminate in the notches of the serrated leaf edge. Hemlock flowers are in loosely formed clusters of tiny white flowers that do not set fruit.

Hemlock leaves have deep veins that run straight to the notches, not to the tips of the serrated leaves.

Hemlock has loosely formed clusters of tiny white flowers with fuzzy yellowish green centers.

Hercules Club, Zanothoxylum clava- hurculis,  is grows in the deep south and in the coastal areas of North and South Carolina. The leaves like elderberry are pinnate, but unlike elderberries the  leathery leaves are smooth, not serrated and are held on branches that can be 3 feet in length. The clusters of flowers are large and creamy yellow, the berries look similar to elderberries, but are larger and the flower/fruit clusters are born high and above the leaves. The most defining feature of the Hercules Club is the trunk. Like the elderberry, the trunk and branches of  Hercules Club are covered in bark,  but they are also  covered with thorns.


Sometimes it is helpful to me to see things side by side so I can compare and contrast their characteristics. So here is a side by side photo for comparison.
This is a side by side comparison of the flowers of all four plants, the top two are  non poisonous, the bottom two range from toxic to deadly.
Oh, and there is one other area that there might be confusion...

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, is common throughout the United States. It grows to 8 feet with smooth purplish stems growing from a central crown. The leaves are long and grow alternately along the stems .Pokeweed's berries look similar to elderberry in color but are larger and are not in loose hanging clusters like elderberries, but hang on elongated clusters called racemes.  Poke weed is toxic so do not eat leaf , berry, stem or root. It is said that the young leaves are edible if boiled in three changes of water before trying to eat them. But in my opinion, if I have to boil something in three changes of water before it is safe to eat, it isn't edible... just sayin's all...

Poke berries are great for drawing birds but although they look tasty, they are very toxic
even when they are green. 
So now that you know what to look for and what not to pick, why don't you cast about and see if you can find some clusters of elderberries in your area? In my next post on this subject I will give you a recipe for a simple elderberry syrup to use as an immune booster  in the colder months ahead.  Happy foraging!

Oh and just so everyone knows... this post is for educational purposes and is not meant to be used to treat or diagnose illness.  Your judgement and personal research are the best tools you have when foraging. In other words, don't just take my word for it...  :) Go outside and explore, there is a lot to discover in this big ol' world!

May 17, 2017

Wash Day, Part One

A little hummer helps me with the laundry.
Some of my favorite memories are connected to Wash Day... as a military brat we lived in base housing for a short time in New Jersey. There was a huge courtyard surrounded by four apartment buildings. Most days the courtyard was a gathering place for moms and a playground for kids, but on Wash Day the courtyard was transformed into a sea of multicolored laundry flapping in the breeze. There were no bikes allowed on wash day and the kids were supposed to find other places to occupy their time, but of course, the best place in the world for a tea party is under a canopy of freshly washed sheets! In the Zona Maya, Yucatan I hung laundry in the sultry heat with a friend as we caught up on news, on a breezy hilltop between Waxhaw and Monroe, I hung laundry with my dearest  friend, silently shaking and pinning, careful not to break the enchantment of  birdsong, breeze, sun and wet clothes... then there was learning to do laundry in the rain forest of Costa Rica where Wash Day is an all day occupation. There clothes are hung under cover, not out in the sun, since it rains even when the sun is shining. A strong breeze blew on our mountain all day long, but there was so much moisture in the air that getting clothes dry is a real challenge. So I would spend all day going down the line of clothes, testing for "dry enough"to take off the line, then immediately fold it and put it in a snap top tote to keep it dry.

These days Wash Day is at our house in Waxhaw, where I am hanging laundry off the back deck on a line that stretches from the back corner of the house to a spot way up in a tree out in our woods. It is not as exotic as Wash Day in foreign lands or as dreamlike as hanging clothes with my bestie, but it has it's own kind of magic. The birds sing and the trees whisper to me as the breeze ruffles their leaves. An anole male scurries along the railing, pausing to show off his bubble gum pink dewlap before he reaches the rose trellis, where he can watch me without worrying about Skittles, our cat. Yep, I love Wash Day...

As a prepper it is important to understand how difficult washing clothes can be without modern conveniences. You will need to have thought it through and made plans before you get caught with a load of soaking wet clothes in the washer and no way to get it dry... Having lived in places where the wash was done in the river, beating clothes clean on the rocks, wringing out the water by hand and spreading clothes on bushes and other vegetation to dry, or in a place where there is so much moisture in the air that clothes always smell musty, no matter how hard you try to get them dry,  I have learned a thing or two about doing the wash in rustic conditions.
In Costa Rica, "The Bodega" as we called it served many purposes. It was our laundry area, potting shed and outdoor eating area when it was raining.
Doing laundry by hand is hard work. Often it will take all day just to get one load of clothes done to dry and folded. Secondly, there are some clothes that are just too much trouble to launder, like blue jeans... you can work yourself to death trying to get a pair of jeans washed and dried. When we moved to Costa Rica we brought jeans with us thinking working in the jungle it would be safer and they would be more durable. It wasn't long before we regretted that decision. We remedied the jeans problem by requesting a shopping trip for people coming down to visit us... Choosing clothing for a grid down scenario is counterintuitive, one would think tough and durable, when actually clothing should be lightweight, breathable and quick drying. Cotton is a no-no, it takes forever to dry and in inclimate weather can actually be dangerous, since it gets cold and stays cold, sapping your body heat and paving the way hypothermia or illness. It is also heavy when wet and will chafe and get musty leading to skin irritation and fungus. If it is cold, choose silk long johns and wear multiple layers, but stay away from heavy fabrics. The first time you have to try and wash and dry a pair of blue jeans by hand will cure you from choosing heavy clothes; your knuckles will be raw, the jeans won't be clean and they will take two days to dry if wrung out by hand. You may end up wearing them wet and dirty; believe me it is miserable to do heavy labor or a lot of walking in wet, smelly, dirty pants.

Then there is the problem of getting clothes clean at all. In Costa Rica, it took me awhile to successfully get the clothes clean and dry in the same day. In the meantime we were having to wear damp, mostly dirty clothes... I felt like a homemaking failure, but before long I learned from my mistakes and we were cleaner and drier. A grid down situation may require it to be somebody's full time job at least one day a week, to keep the clothes clean. It could actually take two people for some parts of the tasks, like wringing out a pair of pants to get enough water out that they will dry in one day. It will be frustrating and time consuming, a task that nobody really wants to own, but if someone doesn't know how to do laundry "the hard way", everyone will be sorry. I would suggest that you start practicing now so that it isn't a total shock if it becomes a necessity. Much like any other aspect of "rustic" living, figuring it out before hand will reduce stress and save time, energy and drama later.

When water, time and other resources are thin in the ground, everyone will have to resign themselves to wear the same clothes for as long as possible. While in Costa Rica we had work clothes that we wore long past the time they failed the sniff test, (for these clothes it was time to wash them when they were so dirty they stood alone...). We would just come off the farm and hang these clothes under cover next to the knee high rubber boots, to air out in the breeze.The next morning we just shook them out and put them back on before going back out on the farm. Our "around the house" clothes we changed into after washing up. These clothes stayed cleaner since they weren't worked in and were washed when they failed the sniff test. We usually changed under things daily and wore everything else for a week before washing.

Here are some things I have learned about washing clothes without the aid of modern conveniences:

Put the soiled clothes on to soak the night before Wash Day, this will give the fibers a chance to release the soil and will save a lot effort when scrubbing. Soap can actually do more harm to laundry than good. Soap is used as a surfactant, to help soil release from the clothing, but can also, if not rinsed very well, irritate the skin and cause the clothes to get dirty faster. I shave a very small amount of Fels Naptha soap bar into a cup of water and let it melt then I pretreat really soiled areas. When I put the clothes onto soak I swish the treated clothes around in the water first and that will put enough soap in the water to help float out the oils and dirt but not add so much soap that it won't rinse clear.

Since water conservation may be an imperative, rinsing clothes may be a luxury you can't afford, so you may have to forego soap altogether. In this case, soaking and scrubbing is the best thing you can do to make sure your clothes get clean. It is possible to make lye soap, but soap making is tricky even with a lye calculator, and making lye from wood ashes is risky business and will not give you a consistent result. If you are thinking about making lye soap, you should practice your soap making skill now, there is a lot to learn.

 Skip the handy dandy plunger washer thingamabob... they don't work very well or last very long. Instead find a real live washboard. It will save your knuckles and you will have some chance of getting your clothes clean. Check out the Lehmans catalog, and if money allows invest in a good wash board and a hand clothes wringer. Purchase good heavy peg pins and and some spring pins, but the spring pins are really a luxury since they break so easily. Peg pins will last a lifetime. Lay in a supply of clothes line. It stretches and get soiled over time. If you can find the galvanized wash tubs they are worth their weight in gold on Wash Day and can work the rest of the week doing other chores.

If you can afford to waste water on rinsing the clothes, then adding 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water will help to soften clothes that will be line dried. If the smell of freshly line dried clothes isn't enough for you and you want to scent your clothes, spray them lightly just before they dry with a few drops of your favorite essential oil in a small bottle of water. I pick lavender and other herbs from my garden and layer them with my clothes in the drawers and linen closet. It will impart a lovely scent and help deter cloth eating critters.

To get your whites white, soak whites in boiling water, then wash with just the tiniest amount of soap, (or none at all). When it is time to dry them, spread them out on the grass or bushes. The chlorophyll in the plants will interact with the sun naturally whitening your whites. It is really pretty amazing how white this will get your whites!

Part Two of this Wash Day post will cover drying clothes. There are several things that can be done to make line dried clothes your favorite way to dry clothes. Line drying will save costs on electricity, be healthier and make your clothing last longer. So until next time, enjoy a day outside and try your hand at doing laundry by hand!

January 28, 2017

Preparedness Foods, Thinking Outside the Box

Prepping has so many facets and seriously, there are so many things to consider... It can really be overwhelming trying to think it all through and plan for what may happen. Food preps are particularly a challenge, since it takes time to build up a supply of food, so I have made it a habit to think about both normal shelf stocking and prepping for long term when when I do my shopping plan for the week. Today as I was making out my grocery list, I also made a list of items for the three month pantry and any Long Term Storage, (called LTS from now on), supplies that I needed to purchase. I do this every week. For us prepping isn't a buy it, store it, forget it, kind of deal. We plan, acquire, store and use all of our preps on a rotating basis. Eating the foods we store and rotating our supplies regularly is part of our overall preparation plan.

One thing that I learned early on in the area of food preps is that most of the prepared, "Ready to Eat" storage foods, freeze dried or dehydrated, that are on the market really aren't very good for you.  Fat, salt and sugar are often predominant ingredients, followed by starch ....  I couldn't in good conscience store foods that were high in calories, but had very little nutrition to go along with the calories. So in order to find storable foods that meet the nutritional needs of my family, I have had to look outside the box.I needed to find foods that were nutritional powerhouses, but were also flexible, easy to prepare and portable. In many cases I have found those foods in ethnic food markets. The area where we live has many ethnic grocers, Indian, Greek, Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern as well as Eastern European, Ethiopian and Nepali foods are available for some prepping perusal. On this particular shopping trip I was going to an Asian supermarket that has foods from many Asian cultures under one roof. So I thought it would be fun to show you what I got while shopping and talk about what they are good for and how to use them!

I'll start with one of my favorites... seaweed. I know that not everyone is familiar with how to use seaweed beyond being a wrapper for sushi, but seaweed is invaluable item in a Prepper's pantry. For starters, seaweed is a virtual treasure trove of essential vitamins and minerals. Particularly, it is full of iodine and has an ample supply of sodium that can provide the body's daily requirement for both, which can save your life if you can't meet your daily sodium needs because you can get salt, (not to mention if you are on the move adding enough salt to your supplies to meet your family's daily salt requirement can be kind of heavy...) It is also easy to prepare and is lightweight, so it is a perfect for the BOB. I use it frequently in our meal preparations, in soups, in fermentation, in stir fry and more. It goes camping with us, travels when we do and is in both our 3 month and LTS  supplies.

Next, on my grocery list was Tree Ears. This tree fungus is high in protein, iron and vitamin B2, all of which are necessary for staying on your feet in high stress situations. Like seaweed it is light and easy to prepare and they have a nice chewy texture. Since it has very little flavor of its own tree ears can be added to practically dish to boost the nutritive value. They are good in omelets, stir fry, soups, salads and more. They have a long shelf life and can easily be stored long term.

I often purchase dried mushrooms, I love the smoky, rich flavor of the dried shitaki. I use them as part of a mushroom stock I make and freeze or can for future use. It is always helpful to have a few soup bases on the shelf for quick meals when I am busy! For long term storage, dried mushrooms are great. They will last as very long time if put in a dry, oxygen free environment. Mushrooms are a good source of protein, are high in niacin, potassium, copper, phosphorous and difficult to acquire, selenium. The mineral selenium is not present in fruits and vegetables, but can be found in mushrooms. It is important for cognitive function, a healthy immune system,  prevents inflammation, plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps to detox some cancer causing agents and reduces tumor growth, and is necessary for both male and female fertility. Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D as well. Due to the fibrous makeup of mushrooms, they must be cooked in order to release the nutrients trapped inside. Since the dehydrated mushrooms I buy are vacuum sealed, I don't remove the packaging when I put them in LTS. I just pack several complimentary items, like seaweed, pho noodles, dehydrated veggies and seasonings together in a 2 gallon bucket, put a large oxygen absorber in and knock the lid on.

Speaking of Pho noodles... Fat Pad Thai type rice noodles, Pho noodles, thin noodles made of mung bean, spring roll wrappers, these are standard items in our vegan pantry, but also play an important role in the Prepping pantry. These kind of noodles do not have to be cooked, just soak in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes and they are ready to be used. In an emergency situation when fuel for cooking might be limited, or time to cobble a meal together is thin on the ground, these items could save the day. And for those avoiding wheat, they are gluten free.

Millet is not just for the birds! This tiny seed is jam packed with nutrition, protein and dietary fiber. It is a good source of magnesium, a macromineral that the human body needs in large amounts, (Only 25% of the population actually gets the MDR of magnesium), as well as calcium and B vitamins, particularly Niacin, (B3). It is best to purchase the unhulled, organic variety, and to soak all seeds and grains, not just millet, before consuming them to make them easier to digest. Most digestive issues with grains spring from the digestive inhibitors found in the seed coat of the grains, soaking or fermenting the grains before use will make them much more digestible. Millet can be added to bread, cooked as a hot cereal, or made into a casserole mixed with other grains and vegetables. It is a quick cooking, versatile, gluten free grain, worth considering for day to day use and long term storage.

I also picked up fresh goodies, some that I will use for making meals, some that will be going into the dehydrator for preservation. Mushrooms dehydrate very well so I routinely snag a variety of the organic mushrooms at my favorite Asian market and pop them in the dehydrator to dry for use down the road.

I hope that sharing some of my outside of the box food preps will inspire you to consider what kind of storage foods might be sitting on the shelves of  your local ethnic grocer and maybe add some nutritional and culinary diversity to your Prepping pantry! Until next time!

Please feel free to post a comment or ask a question. I would love to hear from you!
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