Environment, life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Persimmon Foraging Quest

Hello! If you’ve been reading here for a while now, you may have come across the Persimmon Quest.

This is an annual quest my partner and I go on every autumn. We call around or visit grocery stores in order to find out who actually has persimmons (preferably the astringent kind, but non-astringent will also do). Then, we purchase and eat massive quantities of persimmons.

The first time I had one was when I still lived in California. It was a Fuyu persimmon (Diospyros kaki), crunchy and sweet, and I was sold. When I had my first perfectly ripe Hachiya, like a water balloon filled with sweet, flavorful jelly, I was smitten. When I realized that one of the trees planted here by one of the former occupants was probably a persimmon, I was ecstatic.

A Druidry group I belong to recently offered a small foraging expedition. One of our members is a biologist, and he’s kind and generous enough with his time to lead seasonal foraging walks. Last spring, we hunted for ramps. Now that it’s persimmon season, we went to track down some trees.

And oh, did we ever.

Three bags of soft, bright orange American persimmons, along with a sprig of coralberry and some dried mountain mint.

Several of them were already bare, picked over by wildlife and wind. Some were still laden with fruit that fell at the slightest touch. We picked only the ripest, squishiest ones, leaving the rest to soften in the sun and feed other things.

My partner and I came away with several pounds, which I cleaned and froze for future use. They’re very different from Japanese persimmons — we snacked on a few as we foraged, and it was striking just how much the flavor seemed to vary from tree to tree. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are most similar to Hachiya-type Japanese persimmons, in that they’re very astringent before they’re ripe. When they look like they’re nearly rotten, they’re at their best.

Most of the ones I tasted were almost floral when compared to a Hachiya. Still very sweet and soft (with a slight astringent bite in a few places), but floral like lavender lemonade is floral. The comparatively large seeds got in the way a bit, but I’ve read some interesting recipes for roasting and grinding them to make a coffee substitute. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I’m intrigued! If I can get a foraged equivalent for Dandy Blend that isn’t dandelion root, I’ll be excited.

I haven’t yet decided what to do with the persimmons themselves. I might separate the seeds and pulp, then freeze the pulp again in an ice cube tray. I figure, if I want to add them to smoothies, sauces, or desserts, I can just thaw out some cubes of prepared persimmon mush fairly quickly and easily. I could even pop a cube or two in a jar for making persimmon kefir. (One member of the group was considering doing fruit leather but based on my experiences trying to make strawberry leather in the oven, I don’t think I want to tackle that without a dehydrator.)

There was a lot more to see than just persimmons, too. Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) with its stringy bark (good for stripping and braiding into twine). Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) with its bright yellow, tomato-like, deceptively delicious-looking poisonous fruits. Fragrant tufts of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), gray and brittle with age. The most striking were the coralberries (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), their tiny, bright magenta fruits standing in vibrant contrast to their bright green leaves.

I found these berries particularly intriguing. As it turns out, they’re a valuable native food plant for birds, grow in shade, can stabilize banks, don’t have any major pest or disease vulnerabilities, and thrive on neglect. I’m still looking for native/non-invasive plants to help feed the yard’s hard clay soil and reverse some of the damage from supporting a lawn, and coralberry fills a very important niche here. From what I have read, coralberries aren’t of much value as food for humans. That’s okay, though. Not everything in the yard has to — or should — be for me to eat.

Plus they are so pretty.

I’m considering growing some mountain mint, too. Like other mints, they can take over a yard. Since they’re a native plant, I think it’ll be easier to keep them at a reasonable level than, say, the old peppermint that’s slowly eating part of the back yard. Interestingly, it’s closer to bee balm (monarda) than it is to peppermint, and there’s a faint bee balm-ness to its scent that gives that away. Mountain mint also attracts an incredible variety of native pollinators and predatory wasps, and is both edible and medicinal. Medicinally, it’s treated almost as a panacea — it’s considered a digestive, carminative, emmenagogue, expectorant, and more, though I haven’t thoroughly researched the active constituents myself yet. If it can serve as a home-grown, native substitute for peppermint tea, I’ll be all for it. The flavor does lead me to think that it’d be great for seasoning poultry or wild game, and I’m eager to try.

That’s what I love about foraging trips. Not only do I come away with tasty food, but I also get a better idea of ways to try to heal the land I’m now responsible for. Seeing a wide variety of native plants shows me what this patch of grass could be and tells me how I can help it get there. I’m excited!

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

So I says to the maple tree, I says…

A big part of permaculture is observation.

You don’t just test your soil, see where the sun hits, then plant a bunch of things. It’s a slow progression during which you watch the land to see what grows where, how it thrives, and who visits it. You let the dirt tell you what it wants and meet it in the middle, so everyone gets to eat and thrive.

I figured one way to help this process would be to just… well, ask. I took myself, an offering, and some incense, and climbed up the hill to the big red maple in the back yard. There’s a perfectly butt-shaped arrangement of some of its roots near its base, so I settled myself in, rested my back against the trunk, and let myself kind of fall into it.

It’s a process that’s hard to describe — if pressed, I’d say I “breathe” along with the tree. This is probably a bit hard to conceptualize since trees don’t breathe the way we do, but gentle breathing and just feeling things out for a while seems to put me into a very comfortable looping sensation. I feel the water moving up the xylem, sap flowing through the phloem, waste moving back down to excrete into the soil through the roots. I feel a sympathetic flow from my feet to my head, then back down and into the soil. Sometimes, this is just a way to relax and get out of my own head (and into a consciousness that’s very alien to my own). Sometimes, it’s a helpful way to get information.

In this case, I got a lot of messages about water.

I wasn’t really surprised — red maples have shallow, spreading root systems and produce “dry shade” under their canopies. The soil here is heavy clay, and there’s a fairly steep hill. There’s also a ton of non-native grass and not much biodiversity. The angle, hard, slick soil, a tree that blocks rainfall to the ground, and thirsty, high-maintenance grass made the water messages make sense. It doesn’t look like a desert, but it’s a place that just feels subtly thirsty.

I left the experience resolved to put in more ways to catch rainwater — barrels, a stock tank, something. I wasn’t sure what else to do. What else could this water-hunger mean?

Flash forward to Pagan Pride Day. At one point, I sat for a tarot reading. It was full of “wild hares” — cards that seem to leap from the deck unbidden, as if demanding to be part of the reading, without anyone having to draw them. The resulting message was one of herbs, plants, and a figure that would help me realize my vision.

“Neato,” I figured, and didn’t think much of it.

Flash forward a bit further. My partner and I are at a hardware store to return a defective trowel and buy more mulch with which to murder the front yard. While he gets it, I browse the shrubs outside. There’s a triangular gap between the house, porch, potted rose bush, and rue plant that I’d like to fill with something tall and fairly thin. A voice asks me how I’m doing, and if I need help with anything. I look up to see an older man in a purple shirt. He’s the plant supplier for the stores in this area, he says. We end up having a long conversation about plants, soil, pH, sunlight, tattoos, and taxes. He tells me that the heavy clay is trouble. Without organic matter, it’s too compact for roots to penetrate and doesn’t absorb water well.

What I need, he says, is leaf compost.

And there it was again. The way to get more water isn’t just to trap it, it’s to undo years of raked leaves and monoculture. Layers of compost (good thing I have a big tumbler), paper, yard waste, and shredded wood. Part of the reason the red maple’s roots jut up through the grass is because the clay makes it difficult to exist otherwise. There’s no softness, no air space, no absorbency, no acid.

We’re layering rotted leaves and shredded wood over the clay now. Sprinkling it with mushroom spores and seeds that will sleep in the cold until spring. Eventually, we’ll get there.

Uncategorized

Sorry, hoss. Time for my cabbage bath.

(With apologies to Chris Onstad for this title.)

I love butterflies and moths. I’ve purposefully picked plants because of their appeal to pollinators. I just wish they could read.

It’d be great if I could have a sign that say something, like, I don’t know. “Food is over here ->,” or “Please pollinate here,” or “I refuse to be responsible for raising your children, you absolute deadbeats.”

My issue is not, of course, with little guys like the yellow woolly bear from the other week. No. I am dealing with a decidedly human vs. cabbage white butterfly situation here and I’m pretty sure it’s the same damned bug every time.

A degenerate insect on a pretty purple flower.

See, my original plan was to plant a row of strawberries in one of the raised beds out front. It’s a bit late in the season for that so I figured I’d get some kale, broccoli, and rainbow chard starts instead. There was still a bunch of empty space so I also hucked in a handful of red mustard seeds that I had left over from a microgreens kit. I didn’t give too much thought toward companion planting since my selection of cold-weather crops is a bit limited. Despite this incredibly laissez-faire attitude toward horticulture, my small garden is (astonishingly) thriving.

So is all of the associated fauna, including a particularly persistent cabbage white butterfly which has anointed every single one of my brassicas with eggs and varying stages of cabbage looper. I wouldn’t mind this were it not for the fact that I need to eat those eventually. I refuse to become responsible for the offspring of this obvious delinquent.

Since I also refuse to hose my yard down with insecticide, that means that, every day, I go out there with a sponge and a jar of soapy water to physically wipe butterfly eggs off of my salad. This is hilariously futile, however, since the cabbage white butterfly follows me and deposits new eggs on the leaves I’ve just wiped off. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day this is either — it appears out of the woodwork to laugh at me and rub its butt all over my food.

My next steps are to try to mist the leaves with BTI, horticultural soap, and diatomaceous earth, then cover them with bug netting. I’m hoping I won’t have to do this, but I also don’t want to have to continue to give my broccoli a soapy bath every day.

Next year, I’m planting an absolute assload of nasturtiums. They can have those and leave the kale alone.

Wish me luck.

life, Plants and Herbs

Grassassination II: Revengeance.

If you go on an allergy diet, you do it by eliminating common allergens, then re-introducing them one at a time over a period of weeks. This lets you figure out exactly what you’re reacting to, and how.

If you have sensitive skin, you probably also know not to add a lot of new products to your routine all at once. You add them one at a time, with space in between, so you can see how your skin responds.

If you have environmental allergies, it’s a bit trickier. When you move to a new place, you can’t really add in new allergens one at a time — your neighbors have flowers, and grass, and trees, and there are even new microorganisms to contend with.

So, when my partner was sniffling, sneezing, and miserable, it was hard to figure out what was causing it. He’d had an allergy test years ago, but no longer had the results. With so many new trees (and far more of them), there was no way to really tell what was making him feel so bad.

“Hey,” he called out to me, “What’s ‘Alternaria’?”

Alternaria. It sounded familiar.

“It rings a bell, but I’m not sure. Why, what’s up?”

“I found my old allergy test, and I was off the charts for that.”

Huh. It certainly seemed worth looking up, so I did. Fortunately, Microscope Master had some useful inf-

Wait.

Alternaria is a large genus that belongs to phylum Ascomycota (Sac fungi). A majority of Alternaria species are saprobic, which means that they are largely involved in the decomposition of various organic matter. As such, a good majority of these species can be found in environments with organic material and water (or moisture).
involved in the decomposition of various organic matter. As such, a good majority of these species can be found in environments with organic material and water (or moisture).
decomposition of various organic matter.
decomposition

FFFFFFFFFffffffffffffffffjkglhlrughjkfhvm,nmb

Okay.

So, the same measures we were taking to help tamp down the grass allergens and get rid of the invasive plants were also creating a gigantic allergenic cesspool. I mean, I knew that there would be fungi. At least 90% of the point of smothering the lawn with a tarp was so it’d die and break down, thereby enriching the soil, and you need fungi to do that. I did not exactly count on the fact that the grass would fight back by mounting an assassination attempt of its own.

Well played, lawn.

But that’s okay. I have another weapon up my sleeve. One they’ll never see coming.

Clear sheets.

I’m very much against using plastic where it isn’t absolutely necessary. Part of the reason we initially chose to use a tarp was because we could use it for other things afterward, so it wouldn’t be single use. Fortunately, we were able to find some heavy-duty clear plastic sheeting that, while absolutely not ideal, I will use elsewhere after pressing it into service for grassassination. Glass would be better, of course, but is in no way practical. We considered layering the whole yard in paper, cardboard, and compost, but that wasn’t practical either (and a lot of soil amendments contain ingredients that aren’t sustainably harvested, like peat). Renting a sod cutter, or calling out a service to peel off the grass for us, was too expensive. We’d also probably have to replace the topsoil that’d be stripped away by the grass’ roots, which would be expensive and require many single use plastic bags.

I mean, I already feel like I’m being The Worst Druid by killing this lawn in the first place. The end result will be worth it, but the whole series of events feels very, I don’t know… Machiavellian. Still, a grass lawn represents a lot of waste (and wasted potential). I console myself with pictures of lush violets, wild ginger, and partridgeberries.

Anyhow. Clear coverings inhibit the growth of fungi by allowing more light to pass through. They still inhibit photosynthesis to a degree, and don’t trap quite as much heat as dark-colored ones do, but they work. They just take a little longer. And so, by the time you read this, I’ll be out wielding a mallet like Mjolnir, pounding giant staples into my lawn while cursing at the sludgy, dank mass of what used to be grass.

The lawn may have won the battle, but I shall win the war.

Environment, life, Plants and Herbs

Grassassination.

I’m not lawn people.

I mean, I can appreciate a carpet of grass from an aesthetic perspective, but only because I find its unnatural smoothness and homogeneity both pleasing and unsettling. If the Uncanny Valley has plants, they are all putting green grass.

When we purchased this place, we also become responsible for several thousand square feet of lawn. I should probably put lawn in scare quotes, because it’s less “lawn” than it is an amalgamation of grasses and weeds that look just enough like grass from a distance. The “Hello, fellow kids” of grass, if you will.

Grass is also a major drain on the local environment here. While its vital to areas like the African savannah, keeping it lawn-perfect requires too much water, fertilizer, pesticide, and either gas or electricity to mow. I say “too much,” because grass gives virtually nothing back when it’s confined to a postage-stamp of lawn. You can’t eat it, it’s too short to weave into anything useful, and mown grass is too tiny and insubstantial to make decent fuel. Lawns aren’t even good at feeding wildlife. If grass were allowed to go to seed, it could feed birds, but maintaining a lawn means cutting it short long it before it gets to that point. All lawns do is take, take, take. In a place where droughts are likely to become both more severe and commonplace, and habitat loss drives away native species, lawns can suck it.

A cocker spaniel puppy, sprawled on a lawn, looks up at the camera.
Shown: The only useful purpose for a lawn.

Besides, all grass lawns are are socio-economic symbols. The ability to use a property for aesthetics and leisure alone signifies a certain level of economic security, which, back in History Times, was pretty much a form of rich people gloating. Turning the land around your fancy estate into an immaculate green carpet meant that everyone could see and marvel at your fancy estate. Having a grass lawn around your house, as a concept, is pretty new.

“But j,” you might be saying, “Flowers are grown for aesthetics, too!” This is true, but not entirely. Flowers are pretty, but they also feed pollinators. Grass is wind-pollinated, so it barely even feeds bugs. Flowers are also often the precursor to edible fruit. Even roses fruit, and they’re good for you!

I have a patch of soil at my disposal, so it feels more responsible to use it for the production of either food (if not for humans, than for wildlife) or native habitat. I don’t have a homeowner’s association, so nobody can tell me what to do with the dirt and I am free to create the habitat my wretched little goblin heart desires.

I also have very specific feelings regarding the stewardship of a yard. It’s land that was taken, carved into a suburb, had all of the native flora scrubbed off of it, and made to grow a boring, repetitive lawn. It just feels more respectful to the people, plants, and animals who once called it home to turn it back into something… I don’t know. More nourishing. Less sterile. More diverse. Abundant. Comfier. Sustainable, and sustaining in turn. Even if I live here until I die, this place will outlast me. I gotta do right by it.

I’m fortunate that not everything here is grass, though. On the margins of the property, you can see where the people who lived here before made a mark. There’s a rose bush, rue, a potted sedum, crape myrtle, and azaleas. Tucked away, there are some blueberries, an apple tree, a young persimmon, and a red maple. Like islands in squares of lawn, there are two tiny, tiny Japanese maples.

All of this is to explain why most of my front yard is currently a black tarp. Even if we’d needed to have a grass lawn for some reason, the front yard is about 50% actual grass, and 50% other kinds of plants (mostly invasives) that just kind of moved in when the intense light and heat killed off patches of the grass. Doing anything useful with the grassy areas pretty much involves going scorched earth — literally.

A large black tarp, held down with rocks and a metal rake, covers a rectangular patch of grass.
This is the gardening equivalent of having a rusted-out truck up on blocks in your driveway.

I spent a lot of time researching different ways to get rid of — and subsequently replace — an entire lawn, and this is the solution that seemed to be the best for our situation. A black tarp, when placed over closely cropped grass, captures a lot of heat. This, coupled with the deprivation of moisture and sunlight, kills the plants under it. They break down over a period of weeks, and you get a nice, nutritious patch of soil for growing better plants on. Right now, the plan is to replace everything with a mixture of sun-loving local groundcovers and plants that can pull double-duty as ornamentals and sources of food — Passiflora incarnata, for example, which produces these amazingly alien-looking blooms followed by tasty fruit. I’d also like to adopt the custom of growing edible plants near front gates and fences for passers-by. Even if people don’t want them, the birds will.

The tarp thing is just one method of grass assassination (or grassassination, if you would). We’re also using the “lasagna method” in other areas, which entails mowing the grass short, covering it in layers of paper and cardboard, and smothering that in compost, mulch, and soil. The grass dies, it and the paper break down, and you’ve got the foundation for a very fancy raised bed. (So far, this method is working very well for some bee balm and elderberry plants I put down in one corner of the yard, but more on that another time.)

So, if you’ve been reading here and wondering why I haven’t been posting, it is not because I’ve been kept busy with paid writing or have abandoned society and gone on a bender in a forest. I have been battling one of my greatest foes: LAWNS.

This is for that summer you made me spend on prednisone, you little green S.O.Bs.

Link round up

Good News Round Up: 6.17.2022

Hello! Have you ever wondered what your dog’s thinking? As it turns out, scientists might have an answer for you — sort of. This is a collection of posts and articles that I thought were interesting, funny, or just made me feel a little better about the state of things. I hope they can do the same for you.

A Glimpse Into the Dog’s Mind: A New Study Reveals How Dogs Think of Their Toys. Apparently, dogs have a “multi-modal mental image” when it comes to their favorite playthings. That means that they most likely focus on what is, to them, an object’s most significant sensory features — like its smell. Scientists discovered this by having dogs search for their toys under varying conditions, and observing which senses they seemed to rely on the most for specific objects.

Plants Appear to Be Breaking Biochemistry Rules by Making ‘Secret Decisions.’ As it turns out, plants make decisions about their respiration in ways that we didn’t anticipate. They can actually choose how much carbon they release, by deciding how much they retain for building more biomass. This all happens via a molecule called pyruvate. Most interestingly, plants can actually track what sources their pyruvate comes from, and factor that into their decision making process.

This DIYer Made the Coolest Boho Bookends for Only $1.75 , and They Look Straight Out of a CB2 Catalog. Are you into biophilic design? This is a design philosophy that uses natural materials, like wood and stone, which have beneficial impacts on our mental well-being. This super cheap, easy DIY uses a scrap of travertine limestone, and there’s no perfectionism allowed — the perfectly imperfect, organic shape of the material is part of the appeal.

Binding and Burying the Forces of Evil: The Defensive Use of “Voodoo Dolls” in Ancient Greece. The popular image of the “Voodoo doll” has little to do with the practice of Voodoo. The classic image of a human-shaped object that you stick pins in to cause harm is much closer to the concept of the poppet, a vehicle for sympathetic magic. This paper discusses the use of effigies as a means of binding and suppressing evil in ancient Greece, as well as similar binding rituals in Egypt and Assyria. It’s a long read, but an interesting one.

Researchers identify the origins of the Black Death. We all know that the bubonic plague came from fleas that carried Yersinia pestis, but how did the fleas get it to begin with? One popular theory held that it came from wild rodents in East Asia, but archaeological evidence and ancient plague genomes tell a different story.

Project: SigilPen. I often have to explain that Neodruidry is my religion, but witchcraft is a method. I use modern Druid magic, and I use witchcraft, though the two are very different. Either way, I love magical alphabets, sigils, and the concept of language and symbols as a form of magic on their own. SigilPen is a way of creating neat, accurate sigils using a magic square (kamea).

A lot of online sources for sigil magic fall into the trap of using a single magical square — usually the Square of Saturn — rather than choosing the kamea that’s aligned with what you’re actually trying to do. SigilPen allows you to choose whatever square you want to work with, and helps you translate your word, phrase, or name into a sigil. The site has several other very interesting tools for modern magic, aside from the SigilPen.

Pretend I folded this up and passed it to you under a desk.
– j.

Link round up

Good News Round Up: 6.10.2022

Hello! I am writing this in between drying fruit and trying to explain to one of my cats that there is a very good reason why he isn’t allowed to eat the cacti, and that reason is not that I don’t want him to have any fun. This is a round up of stories and articles that I found interesting or inspiring, or just made me feel a little bit better about the state of things. I hope they can do the same for you:

A new battery design could last for an entire 100 years. Power storage has long been the bugbear of renewables. Coal and oil, unfortunately, have been mainstays for this reason — if you need more power, burn more. If you don’t, save it. While batteries and renewables have made enormous strides, these new designs could produce a battery that’s much more energy-dense than anything currently on the market.

The Chemistry of the Sun: Resolving a Decade-Long Controversy About the Composition of Our Star. Speaking of power sources — scientists have recently updated their ideas about the composition of the Sun. For a long time, ideas about the Sun’s internal structure and ideas about what the internal structure should be (based on how stars happen) have been somewhat in conflict. After all, the Sun is very hot, very far, and it’s not like we can just go grab a scoop of it to see what it’s made of. New calculations have resolved this conflict, and it turns out the Sun has a lot more oxygen, neon, and silicon than everyone figured.

Eat These Vegetables To Reduce Air Pollution Toxins in Your Body. Okay, I’m honestly very skeptical every time an article says you need some superfood in order to combat some vague notions about undefined “toxins.” These vegetables, however, have science behind them. As it turns out, apiaceous vegetables (think carrots and parsley) may provide a protective benefit against a specific toxin called acrolein, which is abundant in car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and other forms of air pollution. They can help reduce acrolein-based oxidative stress and signs of toxicity via the liver, since their phytonutrients help the body convert acrolein to a water-soluble, easily-excreted substance. Best of all, you don’t need much — based on researchers’ calculations, a cup or so a day may be enough.

Every Planet Will Be Viewable In The Night Sky At Once This Month. Well, maybe not every planet, but a whole bunch of ’em. In late June (for most of us, around the 27th), you’ll be able to see seven planets in a row with the naked eye. Nice!

“Superworms” Can Happily Eat Polystrene, Offering Help To Plastic Problem. This news isn’t super new — we’ve known for a bit that the larvae of darkling beetles can eat and process Styrofoam just fine. They have a special enzyme, courtesy of their intestinal flora, that allows them to break the stuff down and actually use it. Researchers have identified the genes that code for this enzyme, and have theorized that you could produce the enzyme itself and allow it to work on polystyrene directly, no worms needed.

(The only downside to using superworms for this is that they produce a lot of CO2 in the process. I’ve actually been refining a design that’d allow me to keep superworms in a tub under one of my plant cabinets, and use a small duct and fan to direct the CO2 into the cabinet itself to help with growth. It’s a bit of a slow process, and I’m still trying to figure out how to best dispose of the superworm waste. As far as I know, nobody’s really chemically analyzed superworm poots. If they don’t contain plastic residue, they could be composted. If they do, then disposing of the waste outdoors could introduce microplastics into the water and soil. Dilemma!)

Goodbye gasoline cars? E.U. lawmakers vote to ban new sales from 2035. Just like it says on the tin. This brings the EU a little bit its goal of cutting emissions from new passenger/light commercial vehicles by 100 percent by 2035.

Tribes Halt Major Copper Mine on Ancestral Lands in Arizona. The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among others, managed to take a mining company to court and win. New technology (like the batteries mentioned above) requires minerals, but there are no reasons why those need to come from sacred ancestral ground.

This landmark decision further validates that Rosemont’s foreign owners have neither the legal right nor the valid mining claims for their proposed plan to destroy sacred sites beneath a mountain of poisonous mine waste[.] The ruling thoroughly dismantles the error-riddled process and reinforces the importance of protecting these sites and the entire region’s water supply. As decisive as this decision is, Rosemont’s foreign investors will likely continue to try and profit through environmental and cultural destruction. We must not allow this to happen.

Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr.

(Also, please recycle your electronics.)

How Building a Bee Hotel Can Help Protect Your Local Pollinators. A lot of buzz (ha) has been about protecting honeybees, but honeybees aren’t indigenous to the US. While a lot of our food supply has come to depend on trucked-in bees for pollination, that’s a whole other conversation about the problems inherent in monoculture. Unfortunately, native bees have been getting the short end of the stick for a long time. Many of them don’t live in hives and produce a ton of honey, so they’re largely ignored. Loss of habitat, pesticides, and the use of non-native plants in agriculture and landscaping have negatively impacted them. Building a bee hotel to provide a living and breeding space for these species can help.

Have a good weekend! (This is mandatory.)
j.

life, Plants and Herbs

Strawbin’.

Okay! Hear me out.

We… went strawberry picking.

If you’ve been following this blog, I know what you’re probably going to say.

“J. You already accidentally bought 47 strawberry starts. You were concerned about what you’d do with up to 140 pounds of basically-almost-free strawberries. Why did you go pay to pick strawberries somewhere else?”

You’re right. This was part of a meetup with one of my Druidry groups, and, to be honest, I wanted to go hang out. Besides, my own strawberry plants aren’t pumping fruit out just yet, so I figure this’d give me some tasty fruits for the meanwhile.

We went to Larriland Farm about an hour after the fields opened. You pay for your container in the beginning, take it to a designated area in the field, and fill it up as much as you can. Since you’re not paying by weight, the more you can fit, the better. My partner was initially going to get us two of those little blue molded fiber baskets, but we soon decided a larger flat box was a better idea.

J. crouched in a strawberry field, filling a flat cardboard tray with fruit.
To think, I thought the box was getting full here.
J.'s partner standing in a strawberry field, holding a flat box filled with berries.
To his credit, he did.

A little less than an hour later, we had pounds upon pounds upon pounds of juicy, very ripe berries. I kept warning him that the box was full, but he was determined to heap them as high as possible. “Nah,” he said, “I can totally Tetris more in.”

All of us paused for meditation (and to eat a few berries) before leaving. Then, after tucking the box of strawberries in the back seat like it was a newborn baby, we carefully trucked them home.

At home, I pureed a bunch of the fruit with spinach, then poured it into an ice cube tray to freeze. Once frozen, it’ll be an easy, space-saving way to keep smoothie ingredients. Some of the fruit will be for salads, frozen for later use, used to flavor water kefir, or macerated in sugar for waffles and shortcake. I sliced a whole bunch, layered it with caramel and pastry, and made a tarte Tatin. Even with all of that in mind, there are still so many strawberries.

A very gooey strawberry tart, with vanilla ice cream.
I hadn’t counted on how juicy the berries would be, so I ended up with a bit too much liquid. Neither of us complained, though!

It’s kind of funny. The blue paper pulp boxes wouldn’t’ve been nearly enough. The next size up, I feel like I’m drowning in berries. It is a problem I enjoy.

I also discovered that it’s possible to break out in a rash from touching strawberry plants, even if you’re not at all allergic to the fruit. Strawberry leaves have trichomes, which are possibly best known as the little hairs on cannabis plants. Strawberry trichomes come in two types: glandular and non-glandular. The non-glandular ones are just little poky hairs that are kind of physically irritating, and help keep bugs at bay. The glandular ones, on the other hand, are attached to glands. These trichomes can inject tiny amounts of defensive compounds.

Imagine if, to protect yourself from bears and muggers, you never left the house without putting on a special anti-bear-and-bandit coat covered in hypodermic needles filled with acid.

The end result was one mother of a rash from the back of my hands to my elbows. This probably isn’t a true allergy, and more a product of spending like an hour accidentally injecting myself with tiny amounts of liquid “fuck off” in strawberry language. I even tested this idea by taking a fresh berry, eating a tiny bit, and rubbing the bitten portion on the inside of my elbow. Aside from a red stain, there was no rash, no itching, no welts, nada. So I’m pretty much free to gorge myself on as many strawberries as I desire.

Here until the ocean wears rubber pants to keep its bottom dry,
j.

Link round up

Good News Round Up: 6.3.2022

Hello! I was going to make a post yesterday, but was forced to take a brief hiatus. Apparently racoons and possums can just show up and dig through people’s trash, but when I do it, it’s “trespassing” and I “need to put some pants on.” Ridiculous.

Anyhow, here is a small round up of news and articles I found interesting or inspiring, or just made me feel good:

“Great Day” For Bumblebees As Californian Court Rules That They Are Fish. Due to the oddities of legal language, California’s laws regarding the protection of threatened and endangered species don’t include insects. However, the definition of “fish” is worded in a way that could allow bumblebees to qualify, granting them legal protection.

Painting the Porch ‘Haint Blue’ Is a Great Way to Deter Wasps. Want to deter other sting-y bugs without harming bees? The answer may lie in a color called “Haint Blue.” Originally, the Gullah people used this color to deter ghosts and malevolent spirits from trying to enter the home, hence the name “haint” (“haunt”). As it turns out, it can confuse wasps too.

Scientists Discovered The World’s Largest Known Plant, And It’s Over 100 Miles Long. Seagrasses are one of those plants that can reproduce via rhizomes — by sending out specialized stems through their substrate that allow new leaves to emerge. These are all effectively clones of the parent plant. Recently, scientists discovered an absolute unit of a seagrass. While DNA testing individuals in a large deep-sea meadow, they made a surprising discovery: It was all the same plant!

Paper Constructions Confine Skeletons to Uncanny Spaces in Jason Limon’s Paintings. “The uncanny structures trap his recurring skeletal characters in cramped boxes and funhouse-esque constructions, where they attempt to disentangle themselves from their surroundings. Rendered in muted pigments, or what the artist calls “repressed tones,” the paintings utilize the anonymity and ubiquity of the bony figures to invoke emotional narratives.”

How to Paint a Dresser So You Don’t End Up With a Sticky, Streaky Finish. If you’re living a low-waste, “buy it once” lifestyle, it helps to know how to refurbish things. This guide can help you repaint furniture so it lasts.

Geologists plan to crack open ancient crystal that may contain life. This is fascinating, but I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen this horror movie.

2,100-year-old farmstead in Israel found ‘frozen in time’ after owners disappeared. Whoever lived there left in a hurry — researchers found still-intact storage jars, a weaving loom, and more!

Research Does Not Support the Adage “Boys Will Be Boys.” As it turns out, children who exhibit stereotypically gendered behavior in one category are not more likely to do so in other categories.

3 Tips To Release Stuck Emotions, From A Therapist & Trauma Specialist. I have trouble with stuck feelings converting to physical symptoms — like tightness in my upper back. If you’re like me, these tips can help release those emotions.

Rebelious Princess – Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, Princess of Éboli. While I was searching for medieval and Renaissance portraits to see what might have inspired the Isabellas, I came across the story of Princess Ana. She lost an eye, perhaps to a fencing accident, was widowed at a young age, had an affair with a king, entered a convent, decided it sucked, left the convent, was caught up in political intrigue, and eventually placed under house arrest — where she apologized for nothing, and, let’s be real, probably died with both middle fingers upraised. I love her.

329 years later, last Salem ‘witch’ is pardoned. A curious group of middle schoolers had taken up the cause of Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who had no descendants to clear her name. While Johnson wasn’t executed, neither was she pardoned — until now.

DC Spring Animal Sightings, Ranked From Worst to Wildest. DC might be a city, but some of the wildlife here is… well, wild. Here are the spring animal sightings, including a rabid fox with an appetite for congressmen, savage turkeys, an Assateague pony who was just being a bit of a dick, and a hungry bear in Silver Spring.

Have a good weekend!
This is an order.

Plants and Herbs

Grass Folklore and Magical Uses

I admit, I’m staunchly anti-lawn. Only 50% of this mindset comes from the fact that I’m very allergic to grass. The other 50% comes from the fact that lawns consume more than their share of water, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers; take up space that could be better used by useful plants; and seem to be a weird kind of status symbol. Also, I hate homeowners’ associations with a passion, and they seem to be really anal about grass.

(I used to try to deliberately sabotage a particularly douchey HOA president by discreetly hucking cannabis seeds into his lawn at every opportunity, and I apologize to no man.)

A tree in the middle of a grassy field, under a cloudy sky.

Since it’s getting into late spring soon, my feelings about grass are at a particularly high peak. It had me wondering — short of raising very small quantities of grazing livestock, is grass actually good for anything?

I also read an old recipe for a hand of glory that involved smoking the severed hand of a hanged man with a mixture of hay and other herbs, and hay is basically large grass, so I thought there might be something there. Could lawns be hiding a treasure trove of magic?

Grass Magical Properties and Folklore

First, it should be noted that “grass” on its own isn’t terribly descriptive. There are a ton of grasses that are known for their magical and medicinal properties, like vetiver and lemongrass. Others, like sweetgrass, have religious or ceremonial significance. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to confine the idea of grass to species like timothy hay and Kentucky bluegrass — the kind of grasses that you’re likely to see appear in paddocks or lawns, either intentionally or as weeds.

A spotted butterfly on a blade of grass.

Sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) is said to be particularly aggressive when it comes to triggering hay fever. Interestingly, preparing a tincture of the fresh grass, splashing some into one’s hands, and inhaling the fumes is said to help halt an allergy attack.

Hay, in general, is associated with pregnancy and fertility. Some sources treat it as a healing herb.

Couch grass (Elymus repens) is used for happiness, love, lust, hex-breaking, and exorcisms. It appears to be a general “get rid of bad stuff, bring in the good” herb, particularly when it comes to getting rid of malevolent-but-not-terribly-powerful spirits.

Goosegrass is name applied to several species, some of which appear as common weeds in lawns. Cleavers (Galium aparine), which doesn’t really resemble grass, is sometimes called goosegrass. It’s often used for spells to bind two things together. Indian goosegrass (Eleusine indica) is a species that is considered a nuisance plant in lawns and golf greens. Goosegrass is generally associated with dreams, wisdom, and luck.

Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), a common lawn grass in the U.S., is an important Ayurvedic herb. Some research has shown that it may be helpful for controlling blood sugar. It’s also said to regulate bowel movements, ease digestion, heal mouth ulcers and skin problems, and help stop bleeding from hemorrhoids. It has some antimicrobial properties, which can make it useful for healing minor infections.

“Hungry Grass”

In Irish folklore, there’s a phenomenon called féar gorta — famine grass, or hungry grass. This was a patch of grass, completely indistinguishable from any other, that would cause intense hunger pangs in anyone who stood upon it. Some unlucky steppers might even become suddenly exhausted, or even pass away where they stood.

In some tellings, this is because the grass is growing over the grave of a victim of the Great Famine. In others, hungry grass is attributed to malicious faeries.

Delicious Crabgrass

Crabgrass seems to be the bane of many a stereotypical suburban dad. Far from merely being an unsightly interloper into a perfect putting-green lawn, this grass is useful as animal fodder, producing fiber for paper, and even produces edible seeds. Hairy crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) is sometimes cultivated in Europe, and the seeds are known as “Polish millet.” When ground, these seeds produce a useful white flour for baking.

Hairy crabgrass is also medicinally useful. In a decoction, it was used as a treatment for gonorrhea. It was also sometimes used as an emetic, or for general debility — though I’m not sure how throwing up a whole bunch would really help there.

The Hand of Glory

As I mentioned above, hay is (sometimes) instrumental in making a Hand of Glory. This was a kind of grisly candleholder intended to help thieves go about their business. When set with a candle (in some tellings, one made with the semen of the hand’s former owner), it would cause all of the occupants of a house to fall into a deep sleep, as well as unlocking any pesky doors that might stand in between you and the house’s valuables.

All recipes for this grisly curio involve cutting the left hand off of a man freshly hanged on the gallows. If he was a murderer, it should be the hand that did the deed.

According to one recipe, the hand then needed to have as much blood removed as possible. In one recipe, it must then be picked in the urine of a man, woman, stallion, mare, and dog for a month. Then, it should be smoked with hay and other herbs, then hung from a church door overnight. At that point, it’ll be ready to use.

In another, the hand must be packed in a jar with salt, pepper, and saltpeter, and left for two weeks. After that, it should be baked in an oven heated with vervain and ferns for one hour.

Recipes for the candle are pretty specific, too. Some require it to be made of the dead man’s fat and semen, with a wick made of his hair. (Unfortunately, getting hair to light isn’t exactly easy — unlike cotton, it doesn’t really burn. Animal fibers tend to just smolder.) Other instructions say it was best to just dip the whole dingdang hand in wax, then light the fingers directly. This seems a bit wasteful to me, though. After a month of pickling with horse pee and smoking with herbs, I’d like my dead guy’s hand to be more than a one-use item!

Using Grass

First, you want to make sure that you’ve removed all of the stems and see-

Wait. Hang on.

Using grass magically or medicinally is fairly simple; the only really tricky part is figuring out what you’ve got. There are reasons why all those short green lawn plants are just called “grass,” and, if you’re not an expert, it’s probably pretty tricky to tell the difference between Bermuda grass, Kentucky bluegrass, or fine fescue.

Once you’ve figured out what you’re dealing with, the next step is pretty much up to you. It’s worth acknowledging that a lot of the grass species used for lawns aren’t from Europe, so there isn’t going to be a lot of Witchcraft or Druidic lore behind them.

A kitten about to go primal on some flowers in a grassy field.

In general, grasses seem to be treated as positive omens that bring luck. This isn’t too surprising — grass is fodder for grazing animals, and its appearance in spring meant that they could graze, and not rely on stored hay. Hungry animals meant hungry people, and grass made all of the difference. Fresh grass chased away the evil spirit of starvation.

Assuming you aren’t allergic, you can place dried grass in a sachet or charm bag for luck, fertility, and protection from evil. You could also steep dried blades in hot water, and add the liquid to a floor wash for the same purposes. Sufficiently long grass blades could be dried and bound together in an herb bundle to fumigate an area, as well.

I can’t vouch for using grass medicinally, particularly given the difficulty with distinguishing one species from another. If you want to use it that way, you may be better off buying dried or tinctured grasses, versus trying to harvest and prepare your own. (Grasses are also generally doused in pesticides, fertilizers, and other things you probably don’t want in your medicine.)

Until lawns fall out of fashion, at least we can use grass for something positive.
Well, you can. I’ll be over here with the antihistamines.