Wintergreen in the Early Days of Spring

Wintergreen

Because of my newfound passion for wild edibles and my continuing passion for wild medicinals, our family walks have morphed into learning and foraging extravaganzas. And while I’m typically the one who makes the definitive decision on where we go, my husband has been the designated path picker these last few times, and he might just get the job full time!

There are a few local wooded areas that I frequent the most, so those are the obvious choices for me. I know what to expect as far as terrain and plant life, so if I’m on the hunt for something specific, or if we have limited time or limited attention spans, these places come in handy. The downside to this is I have a tendency to pigeonhole myself into these few spots and only these few spots, forgetting about the wide world around me. Thankfully my husband isn’t quite so narrow focused.

Recently I put him in charge of leading the way because my brain was too cluttered to think. I just wanted to get into the woods, any woods, and connect with nature. The prospect of picking the place just seemed too overwhelming in that moment. So he did, and he wins the best new spot award!

Now, I was a bit skeptical when he told me we were going to the woods behind the storage facility a short distance up the highway from us. It didn’t really scream “forager’s delight” to me, but in this case I judged much too hastily. The girls loved the little bridge at the beginning of the path made of old skateboards, especially when they saw one with a Ninja Turtle on it. I have to admit, it was a pretty clever use of old skateboards.

IMG_20160311_173944

As the path split, we chose the one that went deeper into the woods away from the highway, so the plant life would be much less polluted. This is very important, when wild harvesting. We had to go up a pretty steep hill, which was not only a great additional workout, but it afforded us an awesome view. The girls were super pumped with all the rocks and boulders, as they are mountain goats in human bodies, so we climbed up the biggest one we saw under some pine trees and laid down to soak up the sun for a bit. It was bliss, pure and simple!

But, as we aren’t ones to linger over much (little ones can only stay in one place for so long), we scrambled down the boulder and continued on our journey.  Shortly after, my youngest daughter, who was straggling behind us, called out, “Mom, I found some wintergreen!” I doubled back to confirm the find, and it was definitely the lovely wintergreen. A fact that made both my three and nearly six-year-old very happy. I have dubbed my youngest The Wintergreen Finding Queen because she has hawk vision for it, especially the tasty little berries. It’s like a super power. Seriously. One that we’re all thankful for as wintergreen has quickly become a family favorite. The girls snagged a few leaves to nibble on, while I collected a handful to use for a fermented “tea”, when we got home. And of course, we all enjoyed some berries as we spotted them.

20160311_152241

The initial find of wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) led to the discovery of some mitchella (mitchella repens) in the same vicinity. Because some of the mitchella had their berries, the girls got to learn the difference between wintergreen berries and partridge berries, which was a great homeschooling bonus. We were also lucky enough to spot a completely new plant to me, striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculate), and a small cluster of last year’s dried up ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora). As we walked down the hill, we came to a small stream with steadily flowing water and a variety of plants and mushrooms growing around it. Evening primrose, wild carrot, plantain, red clover, mullein, cinnabar polypores, and turkey tails were all there. It was exhilarating!

Cinnamon Polypore

Even though both the striped wintergreen and the mitchella are endangered and therefore should not be harvested and there wasn’t enough of some of the other herbs to wildcraft, it was just so awesome to find a new place to connect with and learn from nature. This area has definitely moved into the top 5 places for us to forage walk, and I can’t wait to see how it comes to life as the year continues to unfold!

Tasty Little Red Swiss Chard

So there’s this totally amazing, visually stunning green leafy vegetable that I had never tasted before in my life. In fact, I was afraid to even buy it, let alone try it. What if I didn’t like it?! I mean, after all, I heard it’s pretty bitter.

Swiss Chard Ruby Red
Turns out, haters gonna hate. Swiss chard is my new best friend! I thought it tasted a lot like beets, which are earthy in an under-ripe sweet corn sort of a way. You know what I’m talking about. And I didn’t find it bitter at all, actually. It was such a pleasant surprise.

I first tried it by parboiling it with some baby spinach, and then sauteing it with onions and mushrooms. I took this delicious mixture and blended it smooth and used it as a sauce for one of the best grain free dairy free pizzas I’ve made to date. It was simply fabulous. True story. My only regret is that I didn’t snap a picture.

Today I chopped up the three remaining stalks and parboiled them with baby spinach and cabbage, then added that to some sauteed carrots, celery, and onions, mixed in some free range organic chicken broth, garlic powder, and oregano, and BAM! The heartiest veggie soup with a garlicky, earthy, salty, delicious flavor that was so simple to make. The best part is that it’s packed full of vitamins and nutrients, so it’s like a twofer, and twofers are always great, right?

_IGP9821So thank you, tasty little red Swiss chard for showing me that being brave and stepping outside my vegetable comfort zone can be such a rewarding experience. I’m thinking next month I’m going to get really crazy and try some collard greens! Watch out world!

Resounding Success

I’m nearly a month late in updating, but I wanted to wrap up how the food challenge month went. It’s finally over, and I survived! Woo! For those of you who are reading for the first time, last month I gave up sugar and nightshades. I did a few other things as well like eating sardines at least 2 times a week, taking all the different herbs that I need, and eating fermented foods or taking a probiotic supplement daily. All and all it was a resounding success! It absolutely challenged me, but it was good.

It’s amazing how completely your addictions can control your body and skew your reality! The fear that was brought up just contemplating how and when to start this challenge had me wanting to find the exit door. I told myself how much sugar was NOT an issue for me, that I had it all under control. And I truly believed I did. It took me two weeks to feel ok about not having sugar, to stop having horrible headaches, and to not feel hungry every second of the day. In that time, though, I found several healthy treats that helped satisfy my craving for sugar and chocolate. The best one that has become a house favorite is the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Spiced Pudding, which I mentioned in my mid-challenge post. I know I still haven’t posted that recipe, but I promise it’s on my to-do list!

My intake of fruits doubled because I needed that sugar. And it was incredible how much of a drug it felt like, when I ate them. I could feel the happy creep up my spine, up my neck, and wash over my head momentarily relieving me of my headache. All was right in my world again for roughly 10 minutes. Absolutely amazing. I realized then and there that for me at this point in my life I need to limit high sugar fruits as well. Mind you, I have nothing against fruit. I think you need fruit every day, they provide a lot of great nutrients and fiber, but for my body, I need to focus on getting things like berries that are lower in sugar and don’t produce such a significant rush, when I eat them.

I also ate a ton of brown rice, sweet potatoes, canned coconut milk, and avocados this past month. So much in fact, that I ended up gaining 5 pounds initially. My body crashed hard from not having sugar, panicked really, so this was just another coping mechanism. They’re all healthy foods, ones that I need more of anyway (maybe not the rice, but eh), so I took it all in stride, knowing that once my body regulated, things would get back to normal. And they did. No harm done.

I had some minor slip ups with added sugar and nightshades, and after the challenge was over, we went a little sugar crazy at school just to prove how much it actually does effect us and in what ways. All of these experiences have served as learning opportunities and eye openers, so mission accomplished food challenge. Mission accomplished.

I can say that sugar definitely does not hold the same appeal as it used to. I mean, it does, but it doesn’t. I know that makes complete sense 🙂 One bite of a phenomenal allergen friendly snowball that my teacher’s daughter made using Baby Cakes recipe had me rethinking this whole sugar business. It was bliss in my mouth, absolute Heaven, but just that one bite (and half a allergen friendly brownie) made me lethargic, gloomy, achy, and nauseated. That’s not the way I want to walk around feeling on a regular basis, or even at all, so I’m still avoiding most sugar. As far as the nightshades are concerned, I have realized I have a zero tolerance for most of them. Within twenty minutes or so of eating tomatoes, white potatoes, bell peppers, or some of the spices that fit in this category, even small amounts, the muscles in my shoulders, neck, and base of my head tighten up like a vice, my knees, ankles, and wrists pop and creak a lot, the joints in my neck feel gritty, and the pain is intense. It takes a good three days to feel good again. I always associated that pain and tenseness in my head and neck with my spinal issues, but it was so much more of what I was eating than how I am constructed.

Knowing that is life changing! Now I know that I can be pain free, that I’m not doomed to a life of excruciating pain with headaches every second of every day. I can be free of all that, which is amazing! Am I sad that I can’t eat the nightshades? Of course. I’ve eaten a certain way my entire life, and that has changed so drastically of late. I can’t even have “the healthier” or “allergen friendly” versions of these things anymore. I just can’t have them, and that’s a tough adjustment–mentally and especially emotionally because we form such an attachment to our foods.

Sometimes I get so frustrated and angry at how limited I am, but then I realize I’m feeling limited because I’m choosing to take on that reality. In truth, I have so many things I can eat, and they’re all healthful, nourishing foods that don’t hurt me, that don’t make me angry all the time, that allow me to be who I am inside. It’s nice to finally be in touch with that person and be able to let her out to show the world what she’s capable of. It feels awesome to be ME!

You Never Know

You never know what someone is actually going through. Even when you’re friends with that person, you never truly know the full extent of it. You see as much as you can, but you don’t know every detail. How can you? You’re not them.

A familiar scenario: A person speeds up behind you, rides your bumper, and as soon as he or she has an opening, they whip around you like you’re standing still. We’ve all been there, and I’m certain we’ve all cursed this person for being such a jerk. How dare they blast right by you like that, how dare they put your life and everyone else’s lives in danger like that. What a JERK!

But have you ever stopped to think about what could be making this person drive so quickly? Perhaps their spouse has been in a terrible car accident, and they’re racing to the hospital. Perhaps they’re late picking the kids up from school because errands took longer than expected. Perhaps he or she has been late to work twice already that week and if they are late one more time, they lose their job with a houseful of kids to provide for. And yes, of course, maybe they are just a fast driver, and it’s annoying that they are being so reckless. But then again, maybe not. And this applies to all people and circumstances.

We just never really know. We can guess, we can speculate, we can hypothesize, but without being inside that persons head, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see, we don’t truly know. But we also don’t need to know the full extent of it either. What we need to do regardless of anything else is extend them the same compassion, love, and understanding we would want them to extend to us, if the roles were reversed. “Oh, I know what that’s like,” you say to yourself. “I’ve been there.”

You’re not a jerk anymore than the next guy. Ok, so maybe you are or maybe they are, but maybe they have a reason and maybe so do you. It doesn’t mean being a jerk is ok because it’s not. Our reasons don’t give us a pass to walk around acting like grumpy old trolls. Of course not. But it also doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be a grumpy old troll because we all have days where we just can’t deal, days where we’d rather crawl into a hole and not come out. And because we all know what those days are like, give understanding. Love others simply for being human, for their humanness. I think we all have that in common at least.

You don’t have to like every person you meet. You don’t have to agree with anything they believe, say, or do. But because we’re all trying to make our way through life the best way we know how, with the information we have available to us, the abilities and habits instilled in us, and we all know what it is like to have a really crappy day, week, month, or year, we all need to be respectful and kind to one another.

Don’t assume you know more than someone else or that you’re better than them because or that they could too, if only… Just love, understand, respect, care. Every single one of us matters. We don’t all have to agree on everything, we don’t have to impress or one up each other, we don’t need to have a paper that says so. No. We ALL matter, period, regardless of all things. Because of that we all deserve to be shown love, kindness, compassion, and respect.

And hey, you might learn something new from someone you never would have given the time of day to previously or make a lifelong friend, and that new information or person just might be the catalyst to unimaginable growth and your true purpose in life. After all, you never know.

Learning My Way to Success

Holy cannoli this past week and a half has been a roller coaster to say the least! What was I thinking giving up sugar and nightshades in the same month as my birthday AND Valentine’s Day? But then again is there ever really a good time to give up an addiction? Probably not.

So how am I dealing with all of this? With fruit and sweet potatoes, of course! No, seriously, they have been a life saver. I told myself I was going to limit high sugar fruits like bananas, which I have. I can honestly say I haven’t had a single banana this whole time, but… apples have even more sugar in them than bananas, which I wasn’t aware of until just now. They have a staggering 19 grams compared to banana’s 14. Oranges, which I thought had the most, only have about 9 grams, and pears, oh pears… how do you have 17 grams??

This lesson brought to me by the letter A for assumption. Next time I’ll do a ton more research beforehand! BUT the good news is that in addition to the sugars in fruits and veggies there is also fiber, so the digesting of things is slightly different than it would be if I was eating processed sugars. Plus, I’m getting all the vitamins and nutrients from them that are easily digested, which foods with added sugar generally don’t have. So there’s that, right?

As far as the nightshades are concerned, there have been a couple snafus. I was so focused on the no sugar, no white potatoes thing that I completely forgot that tomatoes are a nightshade. While taking a bite of brown rice pasta with marinara sauce the other day, I realized duh tomatoes! And then a couple days later I had salsa. An oversight on my part, but it happens. I can’t beat myself up over it forever. I had a “That really sucks!” moment and moved on. So I’m not actually sure how exactly nightshades effect my body yet because I haven’t completely gotten rid of them from my system. Hopefully, though, I’ll have more to go on with the next update.

The positives of all of this are that I’m starting to really hear my body, not my addiction talking, and I am starting to recognize my triggers for wanting to reach for something sugary or full of carbs, which in itself has been a huge learning experience. Some of the triggers are innate like wanting sugary foods when I’m cold because my body wants to up its stores in case there’s a food shortage. I can appreciate the wisdom bred into my body but know that I’ll not be without food any time soon. Usually I can simply tell myself this and have something savory instead like a handful of nuts or some sardines, and the craving is appeased.

But sometimes, more often than not, the triggers are emotional like craving chocolate when I’m sad or stressed, and those are much tougher to override. I’ve tried ignoring them completely, which works very rarely and usually only succeeds in making me hungrier and desperate. I’ve tried throwing fruit at them, which also sometimes works, especially in the case of apple chips. But sometimes I just have to give my body what it wants in the healthiest way possible.

Instead of half a cup of Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips, which is easier to eat over the course of a day than I’d like to admit, I can have some chocolate peanut butter pudding made with sweet potato and avocado. No, it isn’t as sweet as most things people would consider sweet, but it is sweet enough, and it’s filling. Plus, it’s damn good and healthy for you. So good, in fact, I used this pudding recipe as the filling in my revised grain free dairy free chocolate peanut butter pie recipe that I made for my birthday, and it was good! I’ll be sure to post the recipe soon, so you can enjoy it too 🙂

So I’m on to the next week of this challenge with a lot of hard work behind me as well as ahead of me. There will be some set backs, I’m sure, ones that I’ll learn and grow from, but many more victories, and those will be what I focus the majority of my attention on.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” Maya Angelou

Love and Chocolate: It’s Valentine’s Day!

I loved Valentine’s Day, when I was little back before I really liked boys. The school parties, laughing with friends, cards, stuffed animals, chocolate, and um chocolate 😉 But then middle school hit and suddenly it wasn’t quite as fun anymore. Yes, the parties and laughter and cards and stuffed animals and chocolate were all still there, but now there was this added layer. Would I get asked to be anyone’s Valentine? Would anyone dance with me at the dances?

It suddenly became a holiday filled with so much anxiety. Thankfully there was one boy who always asked me to dance. I don’t know if he was doing it just to be nice or if he actually truly liked me, but it did mean and still means so much to me that he always bought me a $1 carnation and asked me to dance. He kept hope alive inside of me each year after, when I wasn’t asked to be anyone’s Valentine. Maybe next year, I’d tell myself.

So through high school I surrounded myself with my friends and family, the people who day in and day out supported and loved me for me. We laughed until our sides ached and tears streamed down our faces. We were each others Valentine’s, all of us. But it still felt like something, or someone rather, was missing.

And then I met my husband and suddenly I was excited for Valentine’s Day to roll around. YES! Me, Kylee, Miss Never Had A Boyfriend, would have her first Valentine ever! This is where I’d be doing my “super pumped” dance, which is truly a sight to behold I can assure you 😉

That first year we actually tried to go out to dinner and do the whole 9 yards. Oh, how silly we were! The wait was insane even at a chain restaurant! Apparently you need reservations anywhere you go on that holiest of dinner date days. Who knew?

So we learned our lesson and started our own tradition at home the following year. One of us would make a fancy dinner and the other a fancy dessert, and it was perfect. It is perfect. Every year. And not because we spend hundreds of dollars. In fact, we don’t even exchange gifts. Cards are enough for us because we’ve realized that Valentine’s Day is just a day like any other. That realization was so freeing for my inner middle schooler. I didn’t suddenly love him more or differently just because February 14th had rolled around again. I love him always regardless of anything else. He’s my favorite person in the whole world.

When I think back on Valentine’s Days past, I am sad and happy at the same time. Sad that I spent so much time worrying, sad about all the unnecessary heartbreak, but happy that I’ve finally realized I always had a Valentine, many in fact. Maybe they weren’t of the romantic variety, but we loved each other all the same– my family and friends. More than anything, though, I’m happy because I’ve come to love myself so much more than I did back then, and that has truly made all the difference on this day.

Of course having a husband, children, family, and friends who love me unconditionally is an amazing gift, one I would never want to trade or give up, but the best gift I ever gave myself was self love. When you love yourself, you come to see that while it is nice to have outside love, it’s no longer something you need desperately.

I’m still a work in progress, I still have days when I’m not particularly fond of myself, I still struggle on some days to see passed my faults and love myself regardless, and on those days it is nice to be loved by others romantic or otherwise, but under it all is now a pretty solid foundation of self love that I stand on every day. That is what I wish for everyone on this Valentine’s Day and every Valentine’s Day for the rest of time. Love yourselves. You won’t be sorry you did, I promise you. And of course, chocolate 😉

With all the love in my heart, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

No More Sugar?!

February is food change month at school. It is our belief at CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism that we can’t stand in our integrity as holistic herbalists, if we have not experienced the things we’re asking our clients to undertake. I was actually excited for this month on the outset, thinking “Oh, I’ve already given up gluten, dairy, soy, caffeine, fake fats, corn most of the time, alcohol most of the time, and switched to only natural sources of sugar like honey, maple syrup, and molasses. This will be so easy!”

But sitting in class knowing I needed to give up all forms of sugar other than relatively low sugar fruits (no bananas), as well as nightshades, I was overwhelmed with how loudly my inner addict was voicing her objections. Last month’s dairy free, gluten free, soy free chocolate chip binge notwithstanding, we don’t have a lot of sugar in our diet at home–certainly not much processed sugar anyhow–at least, I didn’t think so.

And then there was Day 1. That’s today by the way, and holy hell!! Last night my inner addict kept trying to convince me to have just one more day, one more day of the “good” stuff. Surely I could start tomorrow, right? But I knew if I didn’t start today, tomorrow would never come because well, sugar. It’s more addictive than cocaine. Truly. There’s a study to prove it and everything, and it’s such an ingrained part of our culture’s lives.

I have to admit right off the bat that we had French toast this morning. Hear me out, though! It was made with gluten free, dairy free, soy free bread, AND I didn’t put any honey or syrup on mine. Regardless, though, the bread was processed, and each slice had 3 grams of sugar in it. I won’t tell you how many pieces I had. Ok, fine. I had 5. I know, I know, but they weren’t very substantial, and I love food, and I hate feeling hungry. Ugh, inner addict, go away!

So ok, 5 pieces of french toast made with almond milk that no, was not unsweetened, so I figure with breakfast alone I had probably 20 grams of sugar, which is the recommended daily allowance for adults. Wow.

I immediately started to harp on myself about how I had screwed this day all up. I might as well go in whole hog for the rest of the day and start over tomorrow, I told myself. NO! No. All was not lost. This was merely a learning experience–a very eye opening learning experience. I had to remind myself what I have told many others over the years. This was only one meal. All is well. Plus, we don’t have French toast, or even bread, on most days, so my inner harpy could retreat back into her lair.

Unfortunately, for me my inner addict did not choose to join her. I ping ponged back and forth all day from craving something sweet and preferably chocolate to craving french fries. On top of the constant nagging from my inner addict, I am right in the thick of my monthly cycle (hello mood swings!), and we were in the house all day because of more snow. I must have been out of my ever loving mind to agree to this, which my husband very kindly pointed out to me. Luckily for him, it was after I had eaten some chocolate peanut butter mousse made from avocado that had no sugar added, and I was able to laughingly agree with him. I was actually smiling for what I’m pretty sure was the first time today, I was feeling full for the first time today, and my sugar addict was happy for the first time today. Yay! Avocados, cocoa powder, and peanut butter for the win!

Clearly, what my teachers said would happen, happened. I’m sure tomorrow will be another rough one, and perhaps even the day after that. BUT the good news is there is light at the end of this hopefully short tunnel and the benefits outweigh the struggle. My health is really important to me. I am willing to and can withstand anything, if it means feeling truly healthy.

I’m just thankful I have this blog to document it all, and great family and friends, and classmates going through similar changes this month to talk it all out with. When I post my progress in a week, I expect to be over the withdrawal period and in smoother waters, perhaps even pain free? I don’t want to jump any guns, but fingers crossed!