Sunday, March 1, 2015

FOOD FOREST MEDICINE Monograph #8: White Birch

Common Name:

White Birch (Paper Birch, Canoe Birch)

Latin Name: Betula papyrifera

Brief Description:
Maple sap gets all of the attention and glory. Rightfully so, maple syrup is divine, but few people know that Birch sap has super powers of it’s own- namely a plethora of minerals and healthy sugars. Ben Charles Harris notes: “thrust your knife into the bark and catch the drippings and in a few minutes you will have a mouthful of a beverage as cool and clear as spring water, with the faintest possible suggestion of sugar in it.” These sweet juices can be fermented into beer, wine or herbed vinegar too.
White birch is a deciduous tree growing around 20m at a fast rate. It is easily identified by its bark, which is often white or dull grey and is easily peeled off the trunk. The leaves of this tree range from 2 – 5cm in length and 4cm in width, are ovate, glabrous and serrated on both sides.
Parts Used:
Flowers, bark, leaves, sap
Edible Uses:
Tea, Sap (converted into syrup and/or fermented into beer or wine)
Medicinal Uses:
Immune support, skin disorders, digestive disorders, rheumatism, diuretic. Well known for its anti-rheumatic action. To quote Bill Mitchell, ND: “use the young leaves and bark to make medicine. Contains flavonoids. The probable antirheumatic effect derive from the methyl salicylate content in the plant oils. One can think of using Betula much as one would use aspirin.
Body System’s Treated:
Immune/digestive systems, skin, musculoskeletal
Harvesting Notes:
Harvest during the spring. Care must be taken in harvesting the bark from birch trees as the bark is their skin and protection. It is better to cut off small sections and just take a few layers off . Make sure some layers of bark are left and the bare wood is not exposed or there is high risk of disease and pests getting in. Birch bark needs to be harvested carefully and respectfully.
Birch pollen is one of the most common seasonal allergens. May be irritating to the skin. Do not use on patients with oedema or poor kidney/heart functions.

Harris, Ben Charles. Eat the Weeds.

Mitchell, William. Plant Medicine in Practice: Using he Teachings of John Bastyr.

Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Fungus Guy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

SriMesh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring Social - Save the Date!

London's Carolinian Food Forest presents the 1st annual South Branch Spring Social. Come on down for free food, free trees, free fun!

Saturday May 23rd from 11 am - 3 pm at the Carolinian Food Forest in South Branch Park.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Starting Native Plants From Seed Indoors

The icy grip of February is still upon us and spring seems very far away.  You're probably itching to open up your seed packs and start those tomatoes or peppers but it might be a bit early.

There are seeds that can be started right now however.

Assortment of Carolinian seeds.

Seeds from most annual plants can be sown in spring and will grow no problem but many native plants seeds start off dormant and require a period of stratification to break this dormancy before the seed can grow.

Different seeds require different types of stratification and it's sometimes a matter of trial and error before you can determine which stratification method will work.  Mimicking the natural cycle of a seed in its native environment will usually do the trick; and most native seeds will have documented stratification info somewhere.

The most common type of stratification required is where the seed is moist and cool for a period of time but sometimes a warm moist period or combinations of the two may be needed as well.

Stratification can be done naturally by planting the seed outside in the fall and letting the seeds go through their natural cycle to break the dormancy or it can be mimicked indoors.  This method is probably the simplest and least labour intensive.

Stratifying indoors can be done using a variety of methods but one method that is quite successful is the 'baggie method'.

Nodding onion ready for the fridge.

The baggie method involves using a seal-able plastic bag and moist coffee filters/paper towels/cotton balls.  Cut the coffee filter in half an fold in half a couple times.  Dip the coffee filter in water and then squeeze out the excess water until the filter is damp but not soaking wet.  Open up the coffee filter and place your seeds inside then close the filter. Place the filter inside the bag and seal it up.  Label your bag with the name of the plant and the stratification details. (ie. date put into fridge and date to take out of fridge).

If the seeds require cold stratification place them in the fridge for the prescribed amount of time.  Its a good idea to periodically check your seeds just in case they have germinated a bit early.

Container of seeds being stratified in the fridge.

Some seeds will require only a few weeks in the fridge whereas others may require months.  It is a good idea to plan ahead when to start stratification so you can time putting seedlings outdoors in good weather.

These pawpaw seeds require 100 days cold stratification.

Once you have noticed your seeds germinating it is time to plant them into soil.  Tweezers are quite handy for picking up the germinated seeds.  Plant into seed starting mix and place in a sunny location until they are large enough to plant outdoors in spring.

Happy growing!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

FOOD FOREST MEDICINE Monograph #7: Winter Green

Common Name:  


Latin Name: Gaultheria procumbens

Brief Description:

Gaultheria procumbens is an evergreen shrub growing to 0.2 m (0ft 8in) by 1 m (3ft 3in) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone 4. It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen from Oct to December. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Parts Used/Edible Uses:   

Edible Parts: Fruit; Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.
Fruit - raw or cooked. It has a very strong spicy taste. Best after a frost, the fruit hangs onto the plant until spring if it is not eaten by birds etc. The fruits can also be used in pies, or made into jams etc. The fruit is up to 15mm in diameter.  A stronger tea can be made by first fermenting the bright red leaves. 'Oil of wintergreen' can be distilled from this plant. It is used to flavour beer, sweets, chewing gum etc.

Medicinal Uses:

Analgesic;  Anti-inflammatory;  Anti-rheumatic;  Aromatic;  Astringent
Carminative; Diuretic;   Stimulant;  Tonic.

Other Uses: Essential.

An essential oil is obtained from the leaves by steam distillation. In order to obtain the oil, the leaves need to be steeped for 12 - 24 hours in water. The essential oil is used as a food flavouring, medicinally (the original source of Wintergreen oil used as a liniment for aching muscles) and in perfumery and toothpastes. In large doses it can be toxic. A good ground-cover plant for shady positions though it requires weeding for the first year or so. Forming a dense tuft-like carpet, it roots as it spreads and should be spaced about 45cm apart each way.


The pure distilled essential oil is toxic in large doses. If used orally may aggravate stomach ulcers. Do not use if allergic to aspirin. Avoid if less than 12. Topical use can cause contact dermatitis.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Here's a recipe for a tasty treat to warm you up on a cold Canadian winter day.

Candied Wild Ginger, from dried rhizomes-2013

Candied Wild Ginger Recipe

  • 1.5 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 50 grams dried dried Wild Ginger broken into 1/2′′ to 2′′ pieces. (rootlets rubbed off).
  • extra sugar for coating when done.
  • bring the water to a boil
  • give your dry Wild Ginger a quick but thorough scrub in cold water.
  • add Wild Ginger pieces to boiling water, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • stir in sugar till dissolved and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • set aside to cool down to room temperature
  • once cooled, put it in a jar and let it sit for 2 days in a covered non metallic jar.
  • drain all the liquid and let the Wild Ginger pieces stand in a colander till they stop dripping.
  • take 1 cup of sugar for each 50 grams of original dried Wild Ginger, mix the sugar and Ginger in a bowl till the ginger no longer picks up sugar granules. 
  • let them dry
  • put your candied Wild Ginger loosely into a well sealed glass or ceramic jar to keep for future use. 

*recipe and image from

Friday, January 9, 2015

FOOD FOREST MEDICINE Monograph #6: Wild Ginger

Common Name:

Wild Ginger (Snake Root)

Latin Name: Asarum canadense
Brief Description:
On a cold winter day there is no Carolinian plant species that can warm up your insides like wild ginger can.  It is a spicy and aromatic herb, which means that it is great for treating symptoms associated with cold and stagnation (or those associated with Canadian winters!), such as cold extremities, bloating, bad breath, gas and malaise.

The name ‘wild ginger’ itself can be a bit misleading, since wild ginger and common ginger (Zingiber officinalis) are not related plant species.  However, one sniff of wild ginger root will have you convinced that they are of the same family.  Some wild food foragers claim that wild ginger rhizomes can be used as a substitute for Zingiber in cooking.

Wild ginger is also diaphoretic, which means that it can be used to maximize fever.  Adding a couple of table spoons of powdered ginger root to a bath can help speed recovery from the common cold.

Wild ginger is an erect perennial, growing up to 4-12 inches high. Each plant bears a pair of large velvety, heart-shaped leaves. Growing at ground level in the crotch between 2 leafstalks is a single darkish, red-brown to green-brown flower. The flower is usually hidden at ground level in solitary below the leaves.
Parts Used: Root
Edible Uses: Carminative to flavour stir fries, soups etc..  Candied ginger root was traditionally used on long journeys to combat digestive upset from eating spoiled foods.
Medicinal Uses:
Used in the treatment of nausea and digestive upset.  Native Americans and traditional herbalists use wild ginger rhizome to regulate menstruation and irregular heartbeat. (in other words, to treat a “damp-cold uterus”).   Wild ginger is also known to be diaphoretic (inducing, and maximize fevers).
Body System’s Treated: Digestive tract, female reproductive tract, cardiovascular system, immune system.
Harvesting Notes:
Pick without destroying the perennial, and push back any loose soil once done. You can harvest many times a year, but autumn is best.  Dry/crush the root to maximize its flavour.
Leaves may be poisonous and cause dermatitis in some people (skin irritation).
The Complete Natural Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs
Christine Dennis, Registered Herbalist.  2010 Herbal Field Experience. Course notes.
Rosalee de la Foret. Learning Herbs.  Taste of Herbs Course Notes, 2013.
Richard Vuskinic, ND. Clinical Pearls, 2015.