Friday, August 21, 2009

Gathering Wild Berries in the Pacific Northwest

Summer is the season when berries are ripening on the bush and vine throughout the Cascade foothills and up the mountains ready to be harvested and enjoyed.  While some Northwest berry vines are overgrown and daunting, there are others more compact and easily picked.  You will want to familiarize yourself so that you are sure of the species and edibility.  My favorite all around field guide is Mountain Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Ronald J. Taylor, Gail F. Harcombe, Linda Vorobik, Alice Anderson, which covers both slopes of the Cascades and includes keys to identifying trees, ferns, forbs and shrubs.  This guide is more than you need for berry hunting, but it will have the answers when you come upon something you want to know more about, as you are likely to do when hiking the forests.  A good guide specific to berry hunting is Wild Berries of the Northwest by J. Duane Sept, but my very favorite is Alaska Wild Berry Guide and Cookbook written and published in 1984 by Alaska Northwest Publishing.  Although some of the species covered in this book are specific to Alaska, there are many whose habitat runs south through Washington, Oregon and even into Northern California.  It also covers inedible plants whose flowers turn to berries, useful for identifying plants that can be added to the home landscape from a Native Plant Nursery. 

 Streptopus_amplexifolius2_150 The best part of this book is, however, the unusual edibles, such as Twisted Stalk, aka Watermelon Berry, aka Cucumber Root Streptopus amplexifolius.  This graceful beauty has a kinky flower stem growing up to 4 feet, with creamy white bell flowers that turn into juicy red melon-shaped berries that ripen to a dark cherry mahogany when ready to pick.  The berries can be combined with others and made into syrup.

Here are just a few of the edibles you might find this month and into September:  Please make sure you know what you are eating and use a good reference guide such as one of those listed above and learn more about other species ripe and ready for the picking. 

Oregon Grape Mahonia aqiufolium, M. nervosa and M. repans
There are three slightly different species of Oregon Grape in the PNW all with identical flavor.  Berries are sour and astringent with seeds, however, they are juicy when ripe. 

 Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorus
These are my favorites with a sweet/tart robust flavor and are some of the first to ripen, starting in June-July and continuing all through summer.  The small to medium rounded bushes have no thorns and the berries slide right off and into your mouth!

blackberry_marionberry_150 Blackberry  Rubus ursisnus
The blackberry, or dewberry, is native to western North America and is a wide, spreading vine-bearing bush with prickly branches.  The berries are full of seeds, but they are also full of antioxidants and worth picking and processing.  It is easy make a syrup (and discard the seeds) which can be added to other berry juices  and used as a topping on sliced fruit or ice cream.

Here’s a standard berry syrup recipe:
Select 6‐7 cups of fresh or frozen fruit of your choice. A combination of fruits can be used. Wash, cap, stem and sort fresh fruits. Crush the fruit using a potato masher, food mill or food processor.
Follow this method for extracting the juice, especially if you want to discard seeds:
Drip Method
Place crushed fruit in a saucepan. Heat to boiling and simmer until soft (5‐10 minutes). Strain hot pulp through a colander and drain until cool enough to handle. Strain the collected juice through a double layer of cheese cloth or jelly bag. Do not squeeze the bag. Discard the dry pulp. Measure strained juice.
The yield should be about 4 1/2 to 5 cups.
Making the syrup ‐ Measure 5 cups of strained fruit juice into a large saucepan and combine with 7 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat, skim off foam, and fill into clean half‐pint or pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner.
Yield: About 9 half‐pints.
Note: To make syrup with whole fruit pieces, save 1‐2 cups of fresh or frozen fruit. Replace 1‐2 cups
of juice with the fruit before combining with sugar and simmer as in making regular syrup.
Processing time ‐ See recommended process times for berry syrups in half pints or pints in a boiling water canner (below). Start timing as soon as water returns to a boil.
At altitudes 0-1000 ft., process for 10 min.
At altitudes 1,001 to 6000 ft, process for 15 min.
Altitudes over 6000 ft., process for 20 min.
Storing Syrups ‐ Syrups must be processed before storing at room temperature. Once opened, the
syrups should be stored in the refrigerator. If freezer space is available, the syrups may be frozen
instead of canned. Be sure to leave 1‐inch headspace to allow room for expansion during freezing.

We’ll cover more wild edibles in later blogs.  Happy Hunting!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aromatherapy by Diffusion

An Aromatherapy diffuser is a primary means of distributing essential oils into the olfactory system. The essential oil molecules are evaporated or otherwise placed into the air and pass into the human nose when you breathe. It's called a diffuser because the aromatic essential oil molecules "diffuse" throughout the air in a room or other enclosed or semi-enclosed space..

Diffusion helps purify the entire environment by distributing the anti-bacterial and anti-viral essential oils to all surfaces within a room, reducing the risk of infections being transmitted.

The best diffusers transport the essential oil molecules in a complete form without modification. The smaller the droplets of oil produced, the longer that they stay suspended in the air and the more they will travel throughout the room. The non-heated diffuser is best, because all notes are transported equally. With a heated diffuser the lighter molecules diffuse first, leaving the heavier notes behind.

Because the olfactory system tends to "overload" it's best to diffuse intermittently. After about 15 -30 minutes you won't be able to smell the EO any more and you are wasting oil. You can either change to a different scent, or simply wait until your olfactory sensors clear out. On the other hand, if you are treating a respiratory problem or purifying an environment, it may be desirable to run the diffuser continuously on a lower setting. Even though you won't be able to smell it, you are still getting a benefit from having the molecules introduced into your system. We recommend the Ultrasonic Cold Steam Diffuser/Atomizer for wellness applications.

Safety Precautions: Because some essential oils are inflammable, be very careful when using them around open flames, such as candles or near the fireplace. When using a "Burner" or tealight diffuser, it is best to place some hot water in the bowl and then sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on top of the water-before lighting the candle. That way if you spill it there is less likelihood of causing a fire.

When diffused, the tiny aromatic molecules from pure essential oils can:

  • Purify the air you breathe and help remove metallic particles and toxins.
  • Increase negative ions in the atmosphere and inhibit viruses and bacteria.
  • Eliminate odors from mold, cigarettes, cooking and animals.
  • Fill your surroundings with fresh, uplifting aromatic fragrance.
  • Create positive psychological and emotional feelings and help focus attention.
  • Welcome guests and provide a relaxing, comfortable environment.

There are several ways to diffuse essential oils, from simple to elaborate. Here are several different types of diffusers and their attributes:

Tea Light Diffuser
Tea light diffusers are inexpensive and simple to use.You simply fill the bowl or  image dish with water, light the tea light beneath the dish and add a few drops of  essential oil to the water in the dish.You will want to replenish the water in the dish often to insure that it doesn’t completely evaporate. And, you may want to add a drop of two of essential oil occasionally, as they will also vaporize quickly into the atmosphere. Tea light diffusers are ideal for a desk or small space.Never leave a tea light diffuser within reach of children and make sure that the tea light is extinguished when unattended.

Nebulizing Diffuser
Nebulizing diffusers are the most efficient method, however, they are also the most expensive. This investment is well worth it if you are looking for the very best for your family’s health and comfort.Depending on the size, they will easily cover from 300 to 600 square feet. The vibrational action of the air pump gently movesimage the aromatic molecules into the nebulizer, where they are fractionated into the tiniest molecules and then dispersed into the air, covering a wider area than when using a tea light diffuser. Nebulizing diffusers should be used sparingly, not more than 5-10 minutes each hour, unless you are addressing sickness or extreme odor conditions. Adding a timer will insure regulated periodic dispersal of your essential oils.

Air Diffuser
Air diffusers are another simple device, made to disperse essential oils placed on a pad with air circulation from a fan.An air diffuser is safe to use in a small child’s or elderly person’s room because you can be sparing with the essential oil drops and not run the risk of overdoing.Air diffusers will gently disperse essential oil molecules in a slightly wider area than a tea light diffuser. They are ideal for a bedroom.

Cold Steam Atomizer

This is the ultimate diffuser for introducing essential oils for family wellness, as it introduces humidity while diffuses healing essential oils for gentle inhalation. The image Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Diffuser/Atomizer carried by Samara Botane is safe (no risk of overheating) and user friendly (change levels of output with a turn of a knob and five different timer settings). It is easy to operate and digital controller shuts the diffuser off when water level is too low.

Since essential oils are volatile, they are already aromatic and begin dispersing into the environment whenever a bottle is opened or they are dropped upon any surface. This makes it easy to place a few drops on a handkerchief or Kleenex and place nearby for instant aromatherapy by inhalation. This is quick and handy when you don’t have another type of diffuser readily available.

Aromatherapy Candles are not recommended for therapeutic use because the essential oil molecules are burned up in the candle and are less likely to reach your olfactory system.

Enter “Hot Summer Diffuser Special” (no quotes) in promotion code at checkout and take 12% off any Samara Botane diffuser.  Comes with free surprise gift!