Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Moldy oils, invasive sunchokes and other stories

Just so you don't think it's all fairy dust, all the time ..

As much as I love sunchokes (aka jerusalem artichokes) - for example they were very tasty indeed in last night's spicy coconut milk chicken dish, simmered for over an hour, alongside carrots and new potatoes - last week I became positively irate about how much of the garden they had taken over.

Every plant has good years and bad, and this year those plants had a far better year than I ever want to see them have again! Some 8 feet tall, those fabulous sunflower type blooms were very cheerful, I'll admit. The sweet little goldfinches - known as wild canaries here - feasted for weeks on the seeds. I am very much a fan of the goldfinch. But once they'd had their fill it was a showdown between me and the plants. Yes, perpetual food is a good thing, but not being able to see half my yard from my kitchen window most of the summer was a drag. I yanked them out, quite gleefully, too, pulling out a couple of pounds of long finger-sized tubers for the kitchen and far, far more that I tossed into the ravine behind us. (Handy thing, that ravine!) I dug over the bed as best I could, leaving still more tubers exposed for the chipmunks. I also ripped out 2 buckets worth of white snakey roots. All this from a roundish bed no more than 4 or 5 ft in diameter. It was only a battle, not the war, but I feel I gained some ground. For now. And darn, it's nice to finally see my morning glories while I do the dishes.

Remember how I've been complaining about the humidity this summer? Not only does it make it difficult to impossible to dry herbs, it makes infusing oils even more tricky than usual. Even picked on the third non-rainy day in a row everything holds more moisture, and that ain't good. I've had to check my oil jars a couple times a day. Some plant materials just tend to float up towards the surface. All it takes is one miniscule piece of a leaf that refuses to stay down and mold appears. Luckily, surface mold can be lifted off. I ended up having to do that more than once with the violet and the rose petal oils; I finally strained them earlier than I would have liked and will keep checking them. A rather large jar of calendula had to be tossed in its entirety, there were strands of dangerous looking mystery all through that jar. sob!

Speaking of oils, here's good one. The inner part of comfrey root is the most sticky, slimey stuff that it's almost disgusting, except it's so healing that it's pure gold. The root can be chopped up and dried, then infused for bathing bruises or rather delicious moistening baths, but it's also useful to have around as an oil or ointment. But every damn time I have tried to make an infused oil of comfrey root, it has gone "off" in a matter of days. Very frustrating, but I've finally found the answer. The "comfrey oil" referred to in books isn't even an oil, it's tincture! Through a marvellous trick of nature, infusing pieces of the root in alcohol (as you know, I use vodka) brings out the gooey sticky good stuff while preserving the whole shebang. I did this with some root not even 2 weeks ago and the result is a thick, red, gorgeous substance that sure looks like an oil to me. I can't wait to try it out. As I have more comfrey to dig - there is always more comfrey, it's almost as bad as sunchokes - I'll be making more of that "oil". If anyone wants some, let me know.

For those of you hankering for dandelion root tincture, no, sorry, it is not yet time to dig them. Soon, though, soon. Then there's the 6 week waiting period, so (I can't believe I'm saying this) if you are desperate, you might want to buy some from elsewhere in the meantime. I'm waiting for a couple of good sharp frosts you see, and with this recent bizarre weather the frosts are late this year. As I do every year, I'm fretting that I may not have enough dandelions out there. I won't know til everything else dies back and I'm whacking back the nettles and pulling the last frost sweetened carrots (mmm). I hope I didn't overdo it in spring .. is it possible to wipe out dandelions?

The eyebright experiment is going very well. We take a squirt in water every morning and notice our eyesight is just not as good on days we forget. There is caffeine in eyebright, so as a bonus I'm drinking less coffee and feeling more chipper. The two batches I made are very different; apparently the crappier the soil, the stronger the herb, good to know, so when it is ready for sale (very soon) I will make a blend of the two.

Other "new" things coming down the pike include an aster tincture which is progressing very nicely and will be ready in a couple weeks (see here for jim mcdonald's take, and let me tell you, he is right!), the milky oats/nettle tincture is about to be tested (here, jim again ) and, if it survives, mullein leaf oil.

Keep those cards and letters and emails coming!


  1. I find Jim McDonald very even keel in his usage of tinctures.oils etc.I wish I could have taken some of those sunchokes off your hands! In a week I will start experimenting with my nettle oil and hot pepper tincture.

    1. Oh Navillus, they're tasty all right but don't plant them! I like jim's approach too. By the way, jim prefers to use lower case for his name; I've heard tell that there's another herbalist by the same name - with a very different take on things - something to keep in mind. If you see a "Jim McDonald" promoting heavy duty cleanses, you know it's not our guy.

      I'm going to want to hear about that nettle oil and pepper tincture!

  2. Replies
    1. Woops - folks, she left a winky face emoticon, not what we see there.

  3. The problem for us city slickers is the weed and pesticide toxins and heavy metals in former industrial Cukey, you just keep doing the tinctures from plants that grow in the clean earth. I guess with wind currents taking pollution all over the place, there isn't anyplace really that is pristine. But better than what I have here that's for sure.

    Navillus.....the name has been nagging me for a while because I've seen it someplace.... yup... Art Gallery on Davenport Road in Yorkville.

  4. Maybe Paul could be featured as an up and coming artist at the Navillus Art Gallery! Sadly, the art gallery shares no relation to this Navillus.

    I agree with Gabi. There will be some very limited tinctures and oils that I can play around with but will never be able to match what nature provides you, C. Your business will thrive just like your plants!

    1. Hey, if the business thrives like the nettles did this year I'll be rolling in dough.

      Paul's actually got a solo show going on in Ottawa right now. I'm sure he'd love to break in to the Toronto market!