Wild medicinal herbs during the polar vortex? Yup!


As any seasoned herbalist knows, the majority of wild medicinals are predominantly available during the growing seasons, spring through fall.  When winter approaches, herbalists in temperate climate zones begin to collect and stock up on their most useful herbs before the onset of winter.  Why?  Because most plants are herbaceous; meaning everything above the soil withers away as the plants pull all remaining energy and nutrients into their roots, before dormancy, a form of plant “hibernation”, rendering the aerial parts inert.  As the leaves and stems whither and fall, spotting and proper identification become much more difficult.  Though the roots of many herbs can be used during this time, good luck finding them with no tops and a foot or more of snow everywhere!  Even if you have their spots marked, you may not be able to dig their roots up if the ground is frozen.

Yet even in the “dead” of a harsh northern winter there are old earth plant medicines to be easily accessed if you don’t mind braving the cold to get them.  Often overlooked or underrated, it’s the trees and woody shrubs that are the unsung heroes of the medicinal plant world.  Not only do many provide food and/or medicine while actively growing, but many still contain their medicines and nutrients in their stems or bark, as well as their roots.  Like everything botanical, the key is in identification.  Most herbalists are pretty adept at identifying a tree by its leaves.  But if you are familiar with their growth habits and can identify them by their bark and/or buds, then you have access to a medicinal resource where many herbalist and naturalists fall short.

Let’s face it; sometimes sh*t happens.  You never know the circumstances that might require you to refer back to old earth knowledge, and forage for medicinals off season.  Perhaps you’re snowed in and can’t get to a doctor?  Or as a practicing herbalist, maybe you moved to a new home during winter and didn’t get a chance to collect any surplus herbs before you left.  Or perhaps your cat knocked over your entire shelf of glass apothecary jars, spilling and soiling what you’ve collected.  Anything can happen.  But if you know your trees and shrubs well enough, you’ll never be caught off guard and still be able to remedy many complaints or replenish your storage with a winter walk in the woods.

(Actually, I’d recommend a winter walk in the woods either way.  There is a silent magic about the woods during winter…. a kind of calm, disarming serenity as nature slumbers with one eye open… listless, yet still aware of your presence.  Try it sometime.)

Since I’m from the eastern woodlands, I’ll select two of the most common from my turf as examples.  To represent the trees, let’s talk about the ‘wild’ or ‘black” cherry.  But first, let’s find it….

foliage escarpment black cherry buds 2-13-10

Black Cherry buds


Black Cherry flowers


Black Cherry berries


Black Cherry bark


The wild cherry (Prunus serotina), is a tall (50-80ft), native, deciduous tree that’s most at home in the Eastern US, though it can be found in the Southwest as well.  It’s not picky about where it grows, and can be found in dense woods, open fields, or along roadsides.  It blooms late in the spring with fragrant white flowers that hang in elongated clusters that give way to black berries in the summer.  Because the berries are a favorite of birds, the seeds are carried and scattered over great distances, contributing to the trees extensive range.  Fortunately, for winter identification, this is an easy one because it has a very distinctive bark.  A mature tree develops are very rough, scaly, dark grey bark that easily peels or flakes off.  It looks like the trunk is covered in burnt cornflakes.  Identifying younger trees in the winter gets a little trickier though, since the bark resembles that of a birch for the first years of its life.

Wild cherry is not only a very common and wide-spread tree, but it’s a very multipurpose one as well.  Tiny black “cherries” that hang in long clusters, ripen in early to mid summer and are not only edible, but make great jams, preserves, or jellies.  The wood, which is a striking reddish brown, is a very strong hardwood that makes beautiful furniture.  It also adds a great smoky flavor to whatever you’re cooking on the grill.

As for its medicinal value, you’re mainly looking at making an infusion (hot tea) or syrup of the inner bark (the young brown bark just under the outer grey bark), which contains a reasonably strong cough suppressant.  Therefore it has relevance in the treatment of cold, flu, asthma, and bronchitis where coughing persists.  It also contains substances that aid digestion.  Keep in mind though, that this herb only suppresses the cough reflex itself and does not address the cause.  All in all, this is a very handy tree to know inside and out.   Wild cherry stands thick and tall, a stark contrast against the snow during cold and flu season!

Representing today’s shrub category of helpful winter medicinals is the ‘black haw’ bush.  Though not quite as multipurpose as the wild cherry, black haw has some great uses, especially for women.


Black Haw flowers


Black Haw buds


Black Haw berries


Black Haw bark

Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), another native of Northeastern woodlands, is a deciduous shrub that averages 6 – 15ft in height and spread.  Flat-topped clusters of non-fragrant, white flowers appear in spring and develop into dark, blue-purple berries in autumn.  Like wild cherries, black haw berries are also edible, making a great jam or jelly.  Furthermore, these berry clusters hang on well into the colder months after all the leaves have fallen, making them an important identifier in the winter (If the birds have not finished them off).  The stem/trunk tends to be short, thick and gnarled with arching branches.  Black haw’s bark is not the strongest distinguishing factor, as it takes a trained eye to do so.  However, it can be described as grayish-brown, and has a “blocky” texture like dinosaur or alligator skin.  An important identifying factor as spring approaches is in the outermost dormant buds.  Because the black haw blooms first thing in the spring, the dormant flower buds begin to swell, giving the outermost tips of the branches a bulbous shape.  Also make note of the bud placement on the stems.

Once again, the medicinal value of black haw is in its bark.  A decoction of the inner bark reveals a powerful relaxant effect for the uterus and is very helpful in treating/relieving false labor pains.

(A decoction is a hot tea where the herb is brought to a boil in water before simmering, as opposed to normal tea preparation, where already heated water is poured over the herb.  The extra heat of a decoction is required of some roots and barks to get them to release their medicines. )

Black haw has been used successfully to prevent miscarriages as well, though it should not be used within the first 2 trimesters (Obviously, this is last resort medicine, and expert medical advice should be sought before using this, or any herb).  But its most common use is in the relief of menstrual cramping.  Part of its pain relieving effect can be attributed to its salicin content, the chemical in which aspirin is derived.  Though the salicin content is much lower than that of willow bark, anyone allergic to aspirin should not take this herb.  Black haw bark will also lower blood pressure.  This is quite a useful shrub that’s still available to you, even in the middle of winter, IF you know it well enough!

Even in a “polar vortex” the forest can still be your herbal pharmacy.  These are just a couple of useful and common examples.  Other common trees/shrubs with medicinal properties include willow, slippery elm, sassafras, witch hazel, oak, poplar, white pine, dogwood, silver birch, bearberry and many more.  Of course, you must do your research.  Use extreme caution and be 100% sure of what you’re collecting, how to prepare it, and how much to use.  There are many great herbal medicine books out there, as well as trained/certified herbalists and herbalism schools to learn from.  If you’re learning on your own, research, research, research, and cross-reference before you experiment.  Some medicinal plants are safer than others.

As for tree and shrub identification, try to get a field guide with excellent color pictures of all features, including bark.  Most of them don’t have good pictures of the bark or winter characteristics, but there are ways around that.  In the growing season, while the trees and shrubs do have their leaves, take the time to examine the bark closely and commit it to memory, even marking certain trees to help you remember if you have to.  Just make sure that whatever you’re marking them with is not going to harm or cut into the tree should you forget about it.

You never know when old earth knowledge may be needed, but always be conscious and respectful of the woods even in winter when things seem lifeless.  I assure you things are quite alive.  Life is just beneath the surface of the bark or peeking out at you from the hole in that tree trunk over your head!

Journey well and in good health out there, people!  Stay warm!

~ Steve & Ashley

How We Got Medicine

I wanted to share with you all today, a Cherokee story of how medicine came to be.  This is, of course, a story told within the context of oral tradition.  Also keep in mind, that the foundation of the pharmaceutical industry is thoroughly rooted in plant medicines.  That is, the drug trade came to be, from researchers isolating and then synthesizing artificial medicines from known herbal remedies, in order to have cures that could be patented for profit.  After all, you cannot patent life, or a naturally occurring resource.  Or at least you couldn’t back then.

The rivalry between herbal remedies and artificial drugs is an old one, with the drug companies throwing the first stones in an effort to marginalize herbal and holistic medicine in order to bolster their own trade.   Their campaign to marginalize and discredit herbal and holistic healing has certainly been effective.  Today, nine out of ten people think herbal medicine is akin to seeking answers from a crystal ball.  Though, a little unbiased research certainly proves the validity of herbal medicine.  So which way is better?  Drugs certainly do the job, but are quite often SWIMMING with unintentional side effects leaving the body damaged in other ways, or just in strung out shape.  Herbal remedies are certainly more gentle on the body as they are more easily metabolized with fewer side effects, but they generally take more time to do the job.  The subject is still hotly debated, for sure.  “Westernized” medicine as it has come to be known, certainly has its relevance in the healing realm, but we must not forget the old ways or our plant kingdom relatives.  I first came across this story in my studies with indigenous healers on one of America’s many first nations reservations, but came across it again in a great herbal remedy book “The Herbal Home Remedy Book” by Joyce A. Wardwell (click the image to read more)

This has become one of my favorite herbal books that I’ve come across over the years. I really appreciate it not just because it gives good herbal advice, but because the author takes a very down-to-earth approach. Highlighted with tribal tales and wonderful stories steeped within oral tradition, not only is this book informative, but it’s fun to read. The following story, at least for me, is a really touching reminder to be thankful for that which the Earth provides and to treat all beings, including plants, with respect.  Ask permission before you take.  Give thanks if you do.  Never take more than you need….. The Rule of Thirds is a great way to respect our plant relatives as well as our balance with the surrounding environment.  That is:   Leave 1/3rd for the plant, 1/3rd for the animals, and only take 1/3rd for yourself.  And if there is not enough to go around, don’t take it.
I hope you enjoy this wonderful tale. If you do, and resonate with its message, I encourage you to pick up Joyce Wardwell’s book and read the other stories she provides; as well as her herbal knowledge. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

~Steve & Ashley~

 How We Got Medicine – a Cherokee story retold by Joyce A. Wardwell

When the world was young, the animals called a council. In those days, the beasts, birds, fishes, and insects could all understand each other. They and the people lived together in peace and friendship. But as time went on, the people increased so rapidly that they began to slaughter the larger creatures for their flesh or skin, while the smaller creatures were crushed.
  Otter, the diplomat, led the council and soon the animals agreed to go to war with the people. But how?
Then Coyote spoke up. “I can sneak into the people’s village and find out what their weaknesses and strengths are.” When he returned, he said, “What people have that we don’t is a bow and arrow. If we had those tools, I know we could win.”
  Beaver remembered there was an old yew tree in a forest the people had burned down years ago. He went and cut it and shaped it into a bow. Reed said they used her dried stalks for arrow shafts. Wild Turkey gave three of her best tail feathers. Flint dashed himself against some rocks under a waterfall to make a good arrowhead. The bow and arrow were all ready.
  “Hold on…somethings missing,” said Snail, looking over the bow and arrow thoroughly. “This won’t work.” Then Coyote remembered about the bow string…he had seen the people twirl animal intestines to make the string. Well, you can imagine no one wanted to give up his intestines to make a string!
cat-173130_640 (1)
  Then Old Cat stepped forward. She said, “I have no teeth and can’t hunt anymore. I haven’t eaten for a longtime, and I’m tired. You can use my gut to help make the bow. I want to help, and it’s really all I can do.” Then she lay down and died. The animals thanked her for her gift. Her intestines made a strong and taut bowstring. But no one could pull the string.
  You see, all the animals walked on four legs, or six, or had wings.
Brown Bear standing
Suddenly Bear drew himself upright. “See, I can stand like man. Give me time to practice. I’ll work the bow.” A week went by and Bear returned to the council. He said, “The bow works fine, but my claws keep getting in the way. I know if we could just cut them off somehow, then I could aim the arrow and kill the people.”
  “No, Bear!” Otter said. “If we cut off your claws, then you’re no longer Bear. You can’t climb a tree, fish, or grub for insects. You’ll be no better than the people.” And with that the council gave up, and was about to disband, when a small voice came out of the air.
  “Ho! We can help. We can kill all the people!”
  “Who are you? Where are you?”
“Oh, you can’t see us. We are the invisible ones. We are disease. And we surely can kill all of the people. But first everyone must agree.”
  One by one all the beasts, all the fliers, the crawlers, the swimmers, the divers, all agreed to let disease kill the people. But when the plants were asked, they paused: “Wait. We’ve never really paid much attention to people. Let us watch them for a whole cycle of seasons. Come back in a year. Then we’ll give you our answer.”
  A year passed. The council was called and the plants said, ” Wait. We have watched the people, and you know, in a year’s time, their babies can’t speak for themselves yet. Come back in twenty years when they have grown to adults. Then we’ll give you our answer.”
  Twenty years passed. The council was called and the plants said, “Wait. We have watched the people, and you know, in twenty years’ time their hearts are still young. Come back in a hundred years when they have lived a whole lifetime. Then we’ll give you an answer.” The animals grumbled.  A hundred years from now, would there even be any animals left? But they had no choice.
  A hundred years passed. The council was called and the animals said, “No more delays. You must give your answer now, plants. Do we let disease got to war with the people or not?”
  “Yes, go ahead,” said the plants. “Do your worst. Give the people disease. You are right-the people destroy too much. We won’t stop you.”
  “But,” said the plants, “we did notice some people who are not like the rest. They show respect. They ask first, and they are careful. So we will help them. Anytime a person comes and asks us for help in a proper way, we will help.”
  And that is how we got medicine.

*This story belongs to the Cherokee people. It was first recorded by James Mooney in 1890 in The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees.

Preparing your body….

I knew it the first time I heard it…. the telltale customer’s persistent cough and dreary expression…the season had begun….

As with every cold & flu season, as soon as I hear the first few people coming down with symptoms, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads quickly.  For me, I almost always get sick when the season hits, but how long it lasts, and how bad it is, is all up to me. If I take the precautions as soon as I know it’s coming; I can always lessen my sentence and make the process easier.  Or if you’re someone like Steve, who rarely gets sick, the extra defense is just a plus 😉

The key to this is to know your vitamins, and your herbs…

Step 1: Break out the Echinacea!

Echinacea is a lifesaver for me when it comes to boosting my immune system, and it works for so many different types of sicknesses. If you start taking Echinacea daily when you know the season is coming; you can even avoid getting sick all together (or at least up your defense against it).

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) (This is the most commonly used variety of Echinacea) is a lovely purple flower that you will often see used in people’s flowerbeds. Often times people use this lovely bloom as a colorful accent flower without even realizing what a treasure they have.


(Parts used include: Roots, leaves, and flowers)

If you’re going to use Echinacea I recommend either growing it yourself or buying the dried herb and making your own tea, tincture, or capsules (MountainRoseHerbs.com has good prices on it). While you can buy the capsules from the vitamin section at most pharmacy-containing stores; the quality is not guaranteed. You have no idea of the concentration, how old the herb is (because it is stored, manufactured, and then shipped out on a large-scale), or what methods of over-processing and preservation may have depleted the potency. Growing your own is, of course, the best option because you know where it came from, and you know it’s fresh. The next option is to get it from a good herbal supplier that is guaranteed to give you quality stock (not too old, and not grown with chemicals). Having it dried and stored up also gives you a bit of control over the dosage. Echinacea is considered a very safe herb, but of course…do your research, try a small amount the first time to check for allergies, and talk to your doctor or do your research if you’re afraid it might conflict with medication. I can say that I have been taking Echinacea since I was a child with no ill effects, however, everyone is different.  I like to take my Echinacea as a tea. Place a couple teaspoons (I usually do a couple tsp, but I tend to mix mine with other herbs) of the dried herb into either a tea-ball or tea screen and place in a hot cup of water, let sit for 5-10 min, press excess water out of the herbs, add honey and drink! I would recommend taking it 3 times a day, and continue taking it even if you get sick. I like the tea because the hot water is soothing to your throat and it is a fast way to introduce the herb into your system. Making a tincture requires more time compared to the first two methods, but you don’t need to use as much, and you can add it to your regular drinks (Put a few drops into your morning orange juice, etc…).  http://adelightfulhome.com/how-to-make-echinacea-tincture-its-easy/ is a good website for learning to make the tincture. The tincture itself is VERY easy to make, but it takes time because it will have to sit in a dark closet/area for 4-6 weeks.

If you’re always on the go and you don’t have time for tea, then use capsules (you can also use capsules as a filler, and drink the tea when you have time). MountainRoseHerbs.com also sells capsule makers and capsules (though I believe you can also get those at vitamin and herb shops), I found the price was good online, however.  This is a simple matter of grinding down the dried herb that you have (just a bit, you’re just trying to make it more fine so it’s a better fit for the capsule). I have several different mortars and pestles in my herb cupboard (different sizes and types work better for different things). Dried Echinacea is easy to grind down, so a basic mortar and pestle is fine (I’m sure you could use a food processor, but I enjoy using the mortar and pestle). You will then use the capsule maker to fill the capsules with the ground up herbs. Viola! They are now ready to be stored and taken at your convenience!

Step 2: Find your Immune Health Herbs

There are tons of immune boosting herbs out there! I know when I make my Echinacea tea, I am often adding additional herbs into the mix depending on what my body is telling me (I wouldn’t recommend going above 4 different herbs at one time because it can distort the effects and potency). There are really too many out there to go into details, but I recommend getting some good herb books or utilizing the internet and doing some research of your own. Certain herbs may even be available for you to gather personally (As always however, if you are wild gathering NEVER take more than you need or can be spared. The rule of thirds – 1/3rd for you, 1/3rd for the animals, leaving 1/3rd for plant itself to reproduce. If there is not enough for you, then don’t take it.) I will give you a list of some of the other herbs that I use for immune system health (click the names for more information!).

Note: Also if you partake in wild gathering, be sure you know where you are getting the herbs from. Dandelions are chalk full of nutrients, but if you fertilize, weed + feed, or spray your yard then I wouldn’t recommend using the plants in your yard. You want fresh and all natural 😉   OK! On the the herbs! –> 

Stinging Nettle – This is a great one!

Garlic – Delicious!

Goldenseal – This works AWESOME when you couple it with Echinacea! The dynamic duo of cold control! I will note however, that Goldenseal is VERY bitter; so while it’s great as a tea, it tastes terrible!! Many prefer to make capsules or tinctures with this one.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

And some extra links to get you started!

Top 10 Immune Boosting Herbs

Immune Boosting Herbs

This should give you a good start! In addition to this it always helps to drink plenty of water and gets lots of vitamin C. These herbs are a great and natural way to care for your body without the use of antibiotics like NyQuil that only MASK the problem. If you already have the flu there are thousands of herbs at your disposal to help with symptoms as well. Boneset and Willow Bark are great for relieving aches and pains associated with flu. Osha root is great for breathing and respiratory issues. Yarrow is excellent for fevers. These are just a few examples and you will be amazed at just how well these natural remedies work!! The use of natural herbs to help and heal the body is ancient in practice, and the clinical/prescription medications of today have roots in, and derive ingredients from these very same herbs.

Step 3: Be consistent

Many herbs have a gentle action on the body that can take some time to be metabolized to their full effect.  For this reason, many people give up on herbs when they don’t get instant results.  For herbs and natural dietary supplements to have a real effect you should be consistent in taking/drinking them. Make sure you create a schedule for yourself and follow it daily where applicable. Also, be sure to do research based on the particular herbs you choose to use. While I can generally take Echinacea daily with no issues; it is not recommended to take Goldenseal regularly for more than 2 weeks. Mix it up, and work out a schedule that works for you and the herbs that you’re using. Research is key, some people assume that herbs are all safe and mild, this is NOT true. Many herbs can have potent results. For example: Poke Root has a lot of valuable health benefits, including helping rheumatism, skin diseases, and as an alternative cancer treatment (as well as many, many others), however, it is meant to be used as a lotion, tincture, or infusion. If you were to make too much of this  say, as a tea, you would find yourself vomiting consistently for the rest of day on the floor. Not pleasant right? What I’m trying to say is that I did extensive research before using my herbs. I can give you recommendations but I am not a doctor or master herbalist, make sure you know what you’re doing before you do it.  Now that I’ve gotten the warnings out of the way; I hope you take the time to explore more into this world of natural healing. Despite all the warnings I just gave; I use herbs regularly and I love the way they make me feel and lack of side-effects. Everything in balance, and knowledge is key 🙂

“The art of healing comes from nature and not from the physician. Therefore, the physician must start from nature with an open mind.” -Paracelsus

Slàinte mhor a h-uile là a chi ‘s nach fhaic (Great health to you every day that I see you and every day that I don’t) 😉

                                                                                                                                           – Ashley S. 

Paw Paw Time!!!

It’s finally paw paw time in eastern Ohio.  I’ve been keeping an eye on several patches of these trees in the woods near my home, watching their development from small, peanut-sized fruits, and eagerly anticipating their ripening into mango-sized beauties!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this one, the paw paw (Asimina triloba) is a small deciduous tree native to the eastern US from zones 5-8, that produces the largest native fruit of North America.  It’s closely related to the ylang-ylang, soursop, and custard apple, though unlike its tropical relatives, the paw paw is the only member of its family to grow in temperate climate zones.  It prefers to grow in very fertile, well-drained, hilly woods in the shade of larger trees.  This Old Earth gem of the woods has been cherished by Native American peoples for hundreds of years before introducing it to European colonists.  On an interesting side note, its leaves are the only known food source for zebra swallowtail caterpillars.  For you herbalists out there, a decoction of the inner bark is a natural insecticide and an effective remedy for head lice.

The fruit is not only nutritious, but absolutely delicious!  When ripe it has the texture of a banana with the juiciness of a mango.  The flavor far surpasses any other fruit, in my opinion.  I’d say it tastes like a cross between a banana, a mango, and vanilla custard.  It has more vitamin C than an orange, and more potassium than a banana.  It’s also the only fruit known to contain ALL essential amino acids.  But perhaps my most favorite thing about the paw paw is that you’ve got to connect with nature in order to enjoy it.  This fruit is a unique gift of the eastern woodlands, which is where you have to go to find it.  The only other way to get it is to grow it yourself from seed which takes time.  It is not commercially available because the fruit bruises easily and has a very short shelf life when picked.

Once you find a patch of paw paws, you’ve got to keep an eye on them as autumn approaches because the window of opportunity is small and humans are by no means the only creatures eagerly awaiting their ripening.  Birds, deer, foxes, coyotes, opossums, squirrels, and raccoons all love them, so if you wait too long, they WILL beat you to them. As soon as they ripen they begin to fall to the ground, especially on windy or stormy days/nights.  Before this point I will typically check them once a week as autumn draws near, by gently squeezing a few fruits from multiple groves.  (Some groups ripen before others depending on individual micro-climates)  Technically, if you want to get ahead of the competition, there’s a point of early ripeness when you can pick them.  Once they soften enough to give under a little pressure, like a peach or avocado, they’ll be ready for picking. This way, you’ll get them before they fall within easy reach of most critters.  Even though they’re ready for picking at this point and can be eaten, you’ll want to let them set at room temperature for a few days to a week for the flavor to develop as they fully ripen.  Also keep in mind that unless they are at the stage of early ripeness when you pick them, they won’t continue to ripen after being picked like other fruits will.  So there’s no point in picking them before this point.

As mentioned earlier, the fruits don’t keep well as they have a short shelf life.  But you can extend your harvest by slowing their ripening in the refrigerator.  For the best flavor, you’ll want them to get ridiculously ripe.  Like bananas, they will turn brown or black, but this is good news for paw paws.  You’ll experience the fullest flavor at this point; though don’t wait so long that they begin to shrivel.  To eat them, it’s just a matter of cutting into them length-wise all the way around and twisting them into two halves, like you would an avocado.  There will be multiple seeds in a row down the center.  You can pop them out or eat around them with a spoon, scooping the flesh out from the skin.  If you’re a fruit connoisseur, it’s easily the tastiest fruit you’ll ever enjoy and the most rewarding to obtain.

If you’ve somehow managed to eat your fill, or have collected enough to carry you into the winter months; the best way to preserve them is to scoop out the pulp and freeze it.  It keeps very well this way and retains a good flavor upon thawing.  It will oxidize a little bit, turning light brown once frozen, but it won’t affect taste or quality.  Paw paw puree has a million and one culinary uses, though I’ve yet to experiment with it very much.  However, I have found that it makes an incredible smoothie (try it with ice cream) and makes a better substitute for any recipes calling for bananas. I plan on trying a batch of paw paw bread this season.  I can hardly wait!

As excited as I am with what I’ve collected so far, there are far more out there that have not quite ripened enough for picking yet.  I’m eager to get back out there in a few days to a week and grab some more.  So to anyone out there in zone 5 with access to some uncorrupted, healthy woods…..  Now’s the time to start looking!  Get out there!  You’ve got maybe a couple of weeks!

One quick point I’d like to make, is to be respectful of whichever woods you choose to search for or collect this fruit (or any natural resource for that matter).  Since you’ll likely be off trail, be mindful of where you’re stepping at all times, not just for your own safety, but for the well-being of other life forms in the woods as well, plant and animal alike.  When collecting any wild edibles, be mindful of the “rule of thirds.”  That is, take no more than 1/3rd of what’s available in any given area, leaving 1/3rd for the other animals that rely on the same food source and 1/3rd for the plant’s own purposes.  Though, since paw paw trees rely on their fruit being eaten in order to propagate themselves, you can get away with taking a bit more so long as you don’t throw the seeds in the trash after you eat the fruits. In fact I always make a point of saving every viable paw paw seed in order to show my thanks by planting those seeds in suitable locations to further the species.  Remember, we humans are not the only species around with needs and we all rely on each other in the big picture anyway.  So let’s keep and preserve the balance so that we can continue to enjoy this marvelous fruit for generations to come!

Mitakuye oyasin!  Unci Maka, tecihila na lila pilamaya lo!

~Mato Inila (Steve)~


You can see how easy to miss they are if you’re not looking for them.


Three of a kind!




A full house!


When there are multiple fruits in a cluster, it’s best to wait until all three are ready to pick, rather than risk damaging the skin of the unripe ones.


Not too shabby for day one!

Love, Death, and The Food Chain

In my life as a naturalist, I’ve encountered some pretty wild views on what it means to be a respectful human being living on planet Earth.  From an Old Earth perspective, the most persistent and popular issues I see that people seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around, is the morality of eating meat and our place in the food chain/circle of life. I’ll get right to it.  Look in any biology text book, or Google “the food chain” and you’ll find a trend that should be more disturbing than you might realize. The problem I have with 95% of the food chain info and depictions out there is that humans tend not to be included.  On a related note, I’d also like to challenge a popular question thrown at me recently; that question being, “How can you claim to love animals if you eat meat?”  This is my response…..

It is possible to love an animal AND kill it for food. What it boils down to is an understanding of equality; that is, we all partake in the same food chain. Humans may have evolved to be ahead of the curve, but this added intelligence merely makes us a top omnivore, and even top predators are prey when the circumstances are favorable.  Sorry to burst the ego bubble, but humans didn’t escape the food chain.

It’s all about context and perspective. Does a mosquito see a human and think to itself, “Oh that’s a human; they’re not on the menu anymore.”?  Of course not.  It’s more likely thinking, “Mmmmm, another warm body for me to extract some nutritious blood.”  We must acknowledge that we humans are also food when the circumstances are ripe for other predators or parasites to take advantage. Countless organisms, simple or complex, still see us as food; everything from the bot fly, to the saltwater crocodile, to the occasional Kodiak bear.  Even a cougar will stalk a small child that lags behind on a wilderness hike.  Again…. context and perspective.  Is a Wall Street stock broker still the “superior” species when you to drop him with no tools and no survival knowledge into the Alaskan wilderness?  A bear or a moose will definitely trump your human “superiority” without your boom stick.

It baffles me to no end that people can understand evolution, see the symbiosis of Earth’s food chain, and yet forget to factor us into the equation or worse yet, place us above it.  There seems to be this misconception that humanity has “graduated” from the food chain and that anything not human is just “stuff” for us to eat or play with. This is a dangerous illusion and our species has confused itself with it, much to our detriment.  We must understand that “Humanity is only one thread in the web of life. What we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” ~Chief Si’ Ahl (Seattle in our language), of the Duwamish tribe from what is now Washington state.~

Humanity is but one type of cell within the greater super organism called, Earth. The many indigenous cultures of the world still understand this fact, and they respect it. They respect it so much in fact, that they have come to LOVE the Earth and all of its creatures. Yet they still hunt.  How can this be?  The answer is that they simply do not have the same fear of, and detachment from death that “civilized” humans do. Death is a natural and necessary part of the continuation of life and not to be feared.  None the less, most humans today fear death and that fear has transferred over and become confused amongst a popular movement, that movement being a rekindled compassion for animals.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that compassion for animals is wrong.  It’s an absolute necessity.  What I’m saying is that a healthy understanding of life, death, and its place (OUR PLACE) in the circle of life might change or enhance your perspectives on life, death and food.  Animals are fortunate in that they naturally understand and accept this, just as many people intimately connected to nature still do.  Love is usually associated with life, but love is essential to death as well.  But the only context where love and death meet in modern society is at a funeral.  I challenge you to see that love and death can and do meet in places and circumstances other than funeral parlors or psychopathic incidents.  Love and respect for the animal you’ve just killed for food is what makes sure you never take more than you need and that you honor its life by letting no part go to waste.  This form of love and compassion is a powerful reminder of responsible environmental stewardship.  As you’ll likely read about often here at Old Earth Project, indigenous cultures, like those of the Native Americans, hold very valuable old world views that modern humanity can learn a lot from about moving forward toward cultural and environmental harmony.

That being said, it is the treatment of animals, the mass production and mass killing of them for food that is despicable (and harmful to our own health). There’s definitely a need vs greed element to be aware of.  One might say a hunter is evil for killing a deer when he can just buy beef in the market.  But consider how the animals live and die on both sides.  Sneak a peek at cattle life in any big name beef operation before you judge the guy who takes his own wild game.  You have to factor in the quality of life lived, not just duration.  There’s also a health element to consider when you buy your meat from commercially raised livestock.  The many hormones, antibiotics, preservatives and God knows what else in commercial meats might make you see more value in raising your own livestock or hunting your own game.  The problem with hunting in America, is that it is getting mixed up in gun culture when it SHOULD be about food culture.  There are definitely many people that shouldn’t be hunting, and I’d like to give every sport hunter I meet a baton to the noggin.  But a hunter who kills only what he needs, and shows genuine gratitude for the life he/she just took will get more respect from me than the person who loves the deer enough to buy a bag of Tyson “gulag” beef from Walmart.

We should all be connected to how our food is grown, or killed. If you have no emotional stake in your steak, then you shouldn’t be eating it.  Otherwise you risk eventually coming to take “food animals” and their environment for granted.  It is because indigenous cultures are emotionally invested in their food, that they are intrinsically connected to the surrounding environment.  So they notice quickly when a particular plant or animal is becoming scarce because of over harvesting/hunting.  Many indigenous peoples will even divide their tribe and spread out over a larger area as their community grows, to avoid over-taxing the environment.  Again….. We can learn a lot from the Old Earth perspectives of simple people frequently stereotyped as “primitive” or “savage”.

So, if Earth is a constantly evolving, writhing mass of organisms living off of, next to, on top of, or inside one another for collective benefit….. all cells that make up the greater super organism we call Earth, than we need to take a look around at the degradation we’re causing and ask ourselves this……  Are we going to continue to destroy the life we depend on to survive, like a virus killing its host?  Or are we going to use our super-complex brains to remember our symbiotic harmony as a species not above, but amongst every other species?

The Earth will keep going with or without us, eventually healing and re-balancing whatever we dish out in making things uninhabitable for humanity.  Species rise and fall through change and time.  Paleontology has shown us that.  Intelligence can only carry us so far.  We still need clean air, clean water, and a clean environment to maintain healthy minds, bodies, and spirits for sustaining ourselves.  Without these things our ability to survive, or at the very least thrive, is threatened along with the rest of the food chain. So can we let go of our collective human ego long enough for our collective human intelligence to find ways to continue to evolve while respecting the balance?  Can we reacquaint ourselves with death as a natural and necessary part of life, so that our perceptions are not corrupted by fear?  Perhaps then it will be easier to love and respect more than just our own species to really understand what symbiosis truly means for planet Earth.

Mitakyue Oyasin

(A Lakota phrase meaning “WE ARE ALL (humans, animals, insects, plants, minerals, etc) RELATED”)

By: Steven Butcher, aka: Quiet Bear

*** Here I present a popular scientific depiction of the food chain…. accurate, though lacking participation by humans…..


*** And then the food chain modern humanity seems to be following……


Simplicity, an Introduction….

Henry David Thoreau once said,

 “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” 

I have learned through experience that simplicity is often the last place we look and the first thing we need. Having grown up in a family in which nothing was simple (or thrown away), I learned that the clutter of life, both physical and mental, can be a heavy burden to bear. When I finally ventured forth into my own life journey; I realized that the simple life was really all I ever wanted. I know what you’re thinking, “simple sounds gray and boring!” Trust me….it’s not! It gives you the opportunity to rethink, rewrite, and let go.


Physically speaking, how many of your possessions do you actually need? How many are you keeping just to make others happy? How many are for memory sake? (Because your late grandmother remarked on one occasion that she thought it was pretty) How much stuff is due to the age-old thought process of “I might need this someday?”

Well before you get up in a tizzy, track me down to hit me with your purse, and tell me how much you loved your grandmother, let me explain….. Everything in moderation……   This phrase is key here! I’m not telling you to throw out memories, or necessities. For the beginners out there, do it in baby steps. All I’m giving you are pieces of thought to consider. Sit down, look around, and consider how much do I actually NEED to keep around? And how much do I WANT to keep around? For some people this is a quick process, and for others the concept of letting go of physical things is really difficult and takes time. I know for me that it took me a good many years to really consider what I did and didn’t need. I am by no means a pro at this yet, but I hope to pass on the knowledge so that others out there can reap the stress-relieving benefits that I have.

On a mental note, you have to learn to “go with the flow.” My friend’s mother is a brilliant and wonderful woman, but she stresses herself out to the point of exhaustion and illness because of her inability to let go. Mind you, when I say “go with the flow” I mean your own personal, life flow. Don’t mistake this concept as complacency. In doing this you are being true to yourself; even if this means ruffling some feathers. Too many people out there choose to go with the flow of the world rather than their own personal current.  For some people it comes easy, and for others, like my friend’s mother, it takes time. Many things can hold you back, but more often than not it’s FEAR. Fear of not having control, fear of the unknown, fear of change….

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
― Yann MartelLife of Pi

The lifestyle of simplicity can go so much more beyond the basic ideas of physical and mental. For my fiancee’ and I, we have adapted a lifestyle of physical, mental, spiritual, and bodily simplicity. Throughout this blog we hope to cover all of these topics, and give tips, pointers, how-to’s, and recipes on how you can follow along! My fiancee’ and I started the Old Earth Project together with the hopes of sharing the knowledge and the benefits of living simply. We hope you enjoy the things we put together, and  we welcome comments of all kinds!! 🙂
                                           – Ashley