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A Jar of Green Herb!

A Jar of Green Herb!

I know what you are thinking, and sadly the jar filled with green herb is not legalized marijuana!  While Minnesota is making strides with the legalization of medical marijuana we are still aways from legalized recreational use.  Yes, someday I hope to write an article espousing the benefits (which there are many) of both medical and recreational cannabis, but this short article is about a very different plant altogether.


As I have written about many times before, we grow a diverse array of plants throughout our extensive gardens.  Some of them are fairly uncommon perennials, fruiting shrubs, and vines and others are very common plants found throughout many gardens.  Its fun having so much diversity, but it is even better when you find a new use for something as simple and common as celery.


We have grown celery, Apium graveolens for years now.  Typically we have always harvested the ribs for use in soups, stews, salads and roasted vegetables, and have used the leaves as an addition to soup stock.  This last summer however, I dried the leaves as a means of preservation.  And that is the green herb in the jar, dried celery leaves!


The dried leaf of celery has an aroma and taste very similar to when it is fresh, but it is deeper and more earthy as well.  This winter I have used it in much of my cooking.  It is a great addition to any soup or stew, I have added it to bread dough when I make an herbed loaf, when making rubs for meats it works very nicely with all the other herbs and spices that are found on my spice rack, it adds a depth to veggie dip, and is a great all around herb that I am excited to have available.


PreservingFoodCoverI came across the idea for drying celery leaf in the book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning.  It documents many of the traditional food preservation techniques found throughout France.  From lacto fermentation to drying, and the use of oils, salt, sugars, and alcohol in preserving food, it has many great ideas on preserving the surplus harvest from your garden.


Its also a fun book, because it so simply illustrates the depth and tradition that is found in European cuisine.  Not only do they know how to use all parts of the celery plant, but there are recipes for black currant jam with honey, lemons preserved in salt, lacto fermented veggies, and cherries soaked in brandy.


This spring as you begin to plan and plant your gardens keep in mind that there are many ways of preserving the harvest.  Some of these ideas won’t be new to you, but others may revolutionize how or what you grow!  You may have a treasure just waiting for you that has always been there, and maybe it will look good being kept in a jar!  Peace and Cheers!

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This is our future, and we can choose which one becomes reality!

A few nights ago I had a dream that would fall under the category of post apocalyptic.  It took place in the present day, at my house, on what appeared to be a bright sunny summer day.  My son and I were out back by the garage getting trailers hooked up to our bikes, collecting baseball bats and machetes, cans of food, and other supplies that have now left my memory.  What the cause of our hasty retreat was I also can’t recall, but I knew we had to get going fast.


Throughout the dream I was also worried as to where my wife and daughter were.  Maybe we were off to meet them, or worse yet to rescue them from some unseen and unknown antagonist.  Either way, I missed the rest of my family very much, and I knew it was my job to keep my son safe.


Before awakening, the last thing I remember doing in the dream was getting the two dogs into the trailers, tying down the rest of our supplies, and then having to say goodbye to our two cats Charlie and Brown.  It broke my heart to have to leave these two little guys behind.  But even in the dreamtime, I realized that they would be fine without us and could fend for themselves living the rest of their days happily eating songbirds and mice.


I love dreams, but I usually cannot recall them as well as I can this one.  And most of the time they are not nearly as involved or as intense.  I have plenty of anxiety work dreams, and random fantastical ones with a rotating cast of familiar characters, but rarely do I have a dream that is so realistic and that is set in a familiar, yet somehow mystical and alternative apocalyptic world.


I couldn’t help but tell my son about this dream, and from that a great conversation was sparked.  He was curious as to what a post apocalyptic world meant.  Having just recently watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for the first time with him, I told him to think back to that movie, but try to imagine it not quite so barren or destroyed.  I think he understood what I was getting at and then proceeded to say something along the lines of “like what happens to you after war comes to your country”.  I was amazed by the depth of his understanding and realized he had a good grasp of the idea. I responded with a “yeah, something like that…”


It was then that he asked me what else we would take with us.  He automatically assumed I would take my Chromebook with us.  And in hindsight I probably would take it if I knew it could be recharged and could access the internet!  But I said “no, we wouldn’t take the Chromebook because what good would it do us if there were no power.”  We could agree on this.


The conversation stayed on books.  I took a quick look at our bookshelf, and pulled down an old, tattered copy of the Tao Te Ching that I have had for well over 20 years.  I showed it to him, and he wondered why I would take a book like that, and not one of our foraging field guides or a wilderness survival book.  The question was a good one, and now I had something else to explain to an inquisitive 8 year old.

While I am not an overly mystical person, the Tao has been one of those books that I found fairly early on in my journey. It has always been there for me, ready to be picked up, dusted off, and reread over and over again throughout the years.  The 81 passages contained within the Tao Te Ching are a manual of sorts that has helped me to walk lightly upon this Good Earth.  It is not a book filled with answers, or a God, or a map to a final destination. But more of a signpost.  A compass.  A star chart to the infinite.  The book of the way.


So that is why I would grab that book if I found myself living in my recent dream.  To help keep me centered and focused, but also fluid like water.  But my son had a good point.  If we were fleeing, not knowing when we would find safety,  I would also pack my favorite field guides and survival manuals.  I can identify many plants and fungi, but I don’t know a whole lot when it comes to cleaning an animal or making a splint for a broken leg.


In reality though, I try very hard to keep the post apocalyptic narrative from playing too big of a role in my day to day life.  If I let it dominate my thoughts, it is hard to be productive or a positive role model.  While it is a possible outcome for our world, especially if we stay our present course, I find it more helpful to focus on the present and how we can create a more fulfilling future for ourselves.


So even though post apocalyptic stories are my favorite ones to read and watch, it is the story of the Tao and a life lived in accordance with nature that I want to play a role in.  When we take the time to observe our surroundings, draw our conclusions based on evidence, and implement solutions that are balanced and inspired by nature, that is when we can move forward and create a truly wonderful, and self sustaining world.



If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing labor saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.





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 Herbs are a part of my everyday routine. Peppermint, nettle, and Earl Grey tea in the morning, garlic and spices in my lunch and dinner, hops in my beer, and more peppermint, nettles, and chamomile tea before bed. I can look in my kitchen and I see a big, potted rosemary bush still growing on February first, jars of coriander seed, dandelion root, basil, and rose hips from our gardens, strings of chilies and heads of garlic. Some of these I use everyday, others not so much. I look outside onto our snow covered garden and can remember and picture all the hops and the bush of lemon balm, not far from that is wormwood, and in another part of the garden is spearmint and peppermint and yarrow and Echinacea, all of these intentionally planted, but not all of them used. A perfect example – wormwood, the herb that made absinthe famous and bitter beer prior to the use of hops. We received a transplant of wormwood from our farmer friend Jeff and found a spot for it. Maybe someday we will do something with it, maybe not, but either way it will always have a home in our garden.

With the onslaught of seed catalogs this year, I noticed a few of them have very good selections of both culinary and medicinal herbs; combine that fact with a few books that have been hanging around our house, my wife and I decided to experiment with more herbs in this upcoming season’s gardens. The short list includes borage, feverfew, soapwort, St. John’s wort, horehound, winter savory, and wild marjoram. Most of the herbs purchased are either perennials or self seeding annuals – the less work we have to do in the long run, the better. These herbs including ones I did not list were purchased for a few different reasons. Winter savory and wild marjoram have culinary uses; borage, feverfew and horehound all have their own medicinal properties that can be used in teas, oils, ointments, and tinctures, and all of them hold a place within the idea of permaculture, specifically permaculture guilds. Some attract bees and other beneficial insects, others deter unwanted pests, some build soil by drawing up nutrients, and others can be used as a living mulch. The idea of a plant guild is actually pretty simple, by mimicking nature in our gardens by growing many varying types of plants, we produce more and varied foods, have healthier plants, and use all available space. Another way of describing this concept is an edible food forest. Your upper story may be fruits or nut trees, your middle(s) layer may consist of shrubs or bushy vegetables, and a third layer may be a ground cover of culinary herbs or berries. The beautiful thing behind permaculture guilds is that they manifest themselves differently in all kinds of climates, soils, and gardens. I don’t want to say there is one right way to design these guilds, because there are things that work and some things that don’t, but there is a lot of room for experimenting in each unique environment. For a much more in depth look at permaculture, plant guilds, and edible food forests, check out Toby Hemenway’s book, Gaia’s Garden.

Continuing on herbs and the motivations to grow and collect more of them really stems from two other books we have been reading. Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Minnesota and Wisconsin by Matthew Alfs and Home Herbal by Penelope Ody. Home Herbal is by far the best visual guide I have seen concerning common herbs; it contains recipes for infusions, oils, teas, tinctures, ointments, lotions, and proper use and applications for all of them. Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Minnesota and Wisconsin is one of my favorites to take with on hikes through our extensive trail system here in the Twin Cities. It has colored photos of all the plants listed and has tons of information on all of them. I have a few other books on herbal healing, but these are my favorites right now. Regardless of if you grow permaculture plant guilds or just have an herb garden for kitchen use, herbs are a valuable addition to any garden. But in a world of depleting resources and an uncertain climate, having a hand in the production of your own medicine is a truly priceless skill. I don’t think conventional medicine is going to disappear overnight, but we all know it is getting more expensive and in some instances harder to trust. Education on topics such as medicinal herbs is highly important, and never trust just one source. Read as many books as you can concerning medicinal herbs, take classes and ask questions. Don’t just grow them in your garden, learn to identify local wild herbs, and learn how to properly store them and use them safely. Finding useful plants out in nature is a lot of fun. They can add a new flavor to a salad and getting out for walks through the woods never hurt no one. If herbs are your thing, have fun and be safe and healthy! Cheers!

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Liam, the boy in The Curious Garden.

It has been a long week here at Autonomy Acres.  Between the gardens, an unexpected house repair project, excessive heat, work, kids, and all the other glories of urban homesteading, I have been more than tired as of late.  The other evening we went to our local library to enjoy a little bit of air conditioning and look for some new books to read.  Even though I really haven’t had the time to read much, I have been getting quite a few books recently.  A few books by Wendell Berry, a sci-fi book called Metatropolis ( five short stories about cities in the future),  A Voice Crying in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey and a few other ones.  The surprise of the night came when I picked out a random book for my two kids.  It had a great title, The Curious Garden, and the cover art was wonderful.  Without even flipping through it, I tossed the book into our canvas library bag and we went to check out.  Before going home we walked down to the small lake by the library and watched the baby ducks with their mama swim around.   That night as we sat down to read books, we opened The Curious Garden and were blown away.  The Curious Garden, written by Peter Brown is not just an awesome kids book, but is also a portrait of the world to come, and in some instances a world that is already here.  Liam is a little boy who lives in the shell of an old industrial city, falling apart and abandoned by whatever industry once thrived in this unnamed metropolis.

Although there were no trees or green, growing things in the city, Liam still enjoyed being outside, even when it was raining.  One day as he was exploring old railroad tracks, he discovered a small patch of wild flowers, moss, and weeds.  The book is the story of Liam and this small curious garden, that with the help of a little boy, keeps getting bigger and bigger.  Without giving away everything this little book is about, I’ll just say by the end the city is very green with roof top gardens, flower beds, patches of melons, flowers and fruit trees, and many more gardeners than there were at the start.  I find it ironic that a book that was written for children, does such a good job at portraying the world we are starting to enter.  At the beginning of the book, it is a dreary, dystopian, Orwellian-looking world.  But the spirit of a free little boy changes that and cultivates something beautiful and wonderful.  This book paints the picture of most of our modern cities; crumbling infrastructure, unwalkable urban neighborhoods, a reliance on food shipped from thousands of miles away, oil, and a polluted and ugly view.  But with a lot of work, and a devotion to turn the situation around, Liam not only inspires change, but also motivates other people to join in the fun.  This is one of those books for kids that should actually be required reading for all adults.  Through its simplicity, it conveys some of the most progressive and needed ideas for the world today.  Pick up a copy of The Curious Garden, read it, and then go join the revolution!  Plant a garden, ride your bike more, and get ready for a new world! Cheers!

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