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Welcome to the Sacred Earth Newsletter

Happy Autumn Equinox!

Autumn Equinox is upon us and I suddenly realised that unless I get on the case and put this newsletter out, another year might go by before I get around to it again. I am not even going to make an attempt at an excuse. Suffice to say that it has been a busy couple of years; an intense period of growing, learning and exploring. And walking - one of my favourite things to do. I have walked in the Alps, and in Nepal I have walked around Manaslu, the 8th highest mountain in the world. But most of my walks have been more local to my current abode in the Black Forest region of Germany. I wanted to share some of my walks and experiences with other English-speaking folks, and so I wrote a book about it 'Hiking and Biking in the Black Forest (Cicerone Guide) 'Sorry, there is almost nothing about plants in there. That has to wait for another book. Or maybe an experimental plant workshop/vacation, which I am planning for the future. At present I am doing some more hiking, which will be turned into another book by the same great people over at Cicerone Press, but more about that later.

Anyhow, a big 'thank you' to all of you who have joined me on my Sacred Earth page on facebook - it is nice to be in touch with my readers in this way and at least to be able to share some of the cool stuff that I come across on my virtual excursions in cyberspace. Thanks also to all of you who have taken the time to write to me and enquire after the newsletter or to say hello. I greatly appreciate hearing from you and to receive these little nudges. They remind me that there are people out there who want to read my work. (Writing can be very lonely at times.) Well, unfortunately I can't promise you that I will be able to attend to the newsletter any more regularly in the coming months, as life continues to be very busy and I am finding myself less able to devote so much time to providing this resource free of charge. I want to keep the information free and available to all, but I also need to earn a living. Perhaps I should try crowd funding. If anybody out there reading this is hip to that, perhaps you can clue me in. I also want to change the shape of the newsletter to turn it into something that is more like a blog. That way I can add content more regularly without having to wriggle the entire site around every time. But, I am sorry, that is a technical matter which probably doesn't really interest you. I just thought I'd give you a warning that the appearance of the site might change one of these days. I have resisted 'going the way of the blog' as I don't really like the generic look and feel of those things. But, they do make the writer's life a whole lot easier. So, I hope you will forgive me.

autumnAutumn Equinox is upon us. The forces of light and darkness are in balance. Fittingly, this year equinox coincides with the climate march and yet another global climate summit. Will the politicians assembled there make the leap to real cooperation and commit to change, or will they continue with their bickering and power mongering?

The earth is already raging and crying. A radical change is needed to avert the worst, but I fear the business bullies will insist on being allowed to burn every last drop of oil, no matter the environmental cost, and governments, dependent on their money, are in their stranglehold. It is an oligarchy, not a democracy. Meanwhile, we are all taking the heat, literally. Those species that can't take it, or whose habitats are lost and destroyed are becoming extinct - at a staggering rate. According to the WWF we are losing some 10 000 species every year! We could stop this armageddon if we can encite enough political will - if enough of us cared enough to make a stand. Not just once, during climate action week, or when convenient, but every day. It requires a new way of thinking, a new way of relating, to the earth and to each other. Seeing value as something intrinsic, not something that is determined by the fluctuating figures on the stock market. Those figures really don't mean anything. What matters is life. Nothing more, and nothing less. I believe we do have a choice, but it is not an easy one. Will we be bold enough to take it on and to change our paradigms? Will we care enough to rise to the great challenge of our times and make a stand for our future, for our children's and children's children's future and for all the myriad species with which we share this beautiful home?

Bold blessings!


September 2014

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Persimmons (Diospyros virginia)

Persimmon TreeIt is not quite winter yet. For now there are still things to forage out there - Blackberries, Walnuts, Sweet Chestnuts, and various roots as well as mushrooms. But winter will be upon us soon enough, (and who knows when I will next be able to update the site) so I am giving advance notice of a wonderful winter foraging delight. It is sweet, delicious and only really comes into its own after the first frosts. In fact, prior to that it is quite inedible.

I remember well the first time I came upon this mysterious fruit. The leaves had already dropped to the ground and a wintery bite chilled the air. I couldn't believe my eyes when I spotted a handsome little tree, entirely naked of leaves, but beautifully decorated with what at first appeared to be bright orange Christmas balls (baubles). I couldn't imagine a tree that still bore fruit in the middle of winter. You can tell, I was born and bread in more northerly latitudes. Upon closer examination the orange balls indeed revealed themselves as fruit, but a fruit I had never seen before: Persimmons!

Euell Gibbons calls them ‘sugarplums’ and is quite rapturous in his descriptions. American persimmons, which are native from Pennsylvania to the southern states, grow wild even in depleted soils where little else will grow. They are extremely tart and astringent before they ripen, but once bitten by the frost their fruit pulp turns to an almost jelly-like consistency and its flavor takes on a delicate, sweet note, reminiscent of apricot.

Although they mostly lend themselves to sweet dishes, such as pies, cakes muffins and sweetbreads, they can also be used in savory concoctions with a sweet note - for example, spiced with chillies and made into chutneys.

Native Americans made a fruit wine with them, dried them or mixed the pulp with flour to make a fruit bread.

Persimmons are quite nutritious, being rich in vitamin A and C particularly, and an exceptionally rich source of fibre. They also contains some valuable anti-oxidant flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. It is said to be particularly good for strengthening small blood vessels (e.g. in the retina of the eye).

But don’t be sad if you live in an area where persimmons don’t grow wild. Cultivated varieties from Japan and China can be purchased at the store. There are two main varieties, which mostly differ in terms of their astringency. There are the heart-shapes Hachiya persimmons, which must be fully ripe before they become edible, and the non-astringent Fuyu, which can be used even while still quite firm. As the fruits originate from Japan, Japanese cook books, or websites offer a wealth of suggestions of what to do with persimmons.

Here some simple recipe ideas:


Prepare fruit by cutting into small pieces and then pureé. Measure fruit and water into large kettle.
Stir in pectin and lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 30 seconds. Add sugar and again bring to a rolling boil for exactly 4 minutes, by the clock. Stir constantly. Remove from heat and pour into sterilized containers. Makes 6 jars of jam.

from: FAO non-wood forest products from temperate broad-leaved trees

Persimmon Pudding


Permaculture - new paradigms for a sustainable way of life

It is easy to get down about the way things are going in the big, wide world out there - ever growing levels of pollution as world population grows and everybody is clambering for ‘a better living’, which seems to be achieved by accumulatingever more 'stuff' designed for the landfill. Resources are dwindling and fierce wars are fought over rare metals in far off places. Those on the frontlines of these wars will likely never benefit directly from the riches of their land, but are paid just pennies for risking their lives.

Even supposedly democratic governments seem to have forgotten that they are meant to be serving the people, not rule them as subjects of a plutocracy.
It is easy to lose hope and resign oneself to ‘that’s just the way it is’ and get on with life. One person alone can’t do much anyway, so why bother worrying about anything, right? Might as well just enjoy the ride, play the game and try to keep a jolly face.

Wrong! It doesn’t have to be that way. Things are changing, quietly and persistently. A movement is growing, resilient, strong and healing, sprouting at the grass-roots level, from one community to the another.


It has been said that the next revolution will be fought in our gardens, and I am beginning to see it that way, too. This non-violent, quiet revolution is called ‘Permaculture’, and it is slowly, but surely spreading, not just across the country, but across the entire globe.
Some of you may have heard of it. Sometimes referred to as the ‘no-dig’ system of gardening, conventional growers, even organic growers, tend to dismiss it as a naive and impractical way to feed the millions of hungry mouths around the world. Perhaps that would be true if the aim was to merely replace industrial farms with permaculture farms and continue with the same economic system that we have been locked into for centuries. But clearly, that is not the answer. It has gotten us into the mess we are currently sitting in.

Industrial farming is on the brink of collapse. Soils are depleted, ecosystems are badly degraded and the ‘working paradigm’ is based on war against nature, war against insects and other ‘competitors’, to get maximum yield for maximum profit. Nutritional value, tasteor diversity don’t seem to come into the equation. Instead of using heirloom varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases and adaptable to different climate conditions, agro-industrialists merely produce ‘biomass’.

To that end seeds are engineered to withstand spraying with toxic pesticides and herbicides - with the predictable result of also breeding resistant ‘competitors’ - weeds and insects that can no longer be kept in check with the conventional chemical weapons that agricultural industry has been relying on in the past. Stronger poisons are needed - but where will they come from? And how will they affect wildlife, and how will they affect our own health and nutrition? Well - I’ll leave you to imagine that.

The paradigms of permaculture are not based on maximum yield for maximum profit, but on abundance, and on co-operation and sharing. It is based on restoring, rather than exploiting ecosystems. The emphasis is on ‘thinking globally and acting locally’ - If excessive yields are produced, these can be sold on the national or international markets, but first, lets produce local food for local people.

Presently the market is based on exploitative cash crop economies in ‘developing’ countries: communities are disenfranchised, their land is ‘grabbed’ by multi-nationals and turned into cash crop monocultures - like palm oil, or coffee, or bananas and a host of other items. Peasants are left with no land, or even the time to grow enough food to feed themselves. Instead they depend on the pennies they earn for their labour in this ‘feudal’ system that has its roots in colonial times.

We can’t change the whole world at once, but we can start in our own back yards. We can create cooperative permaculture farms and yards, sharing yields with neighbors and friends and thus reduce our reliance on industrial agriculture that brings us products flown half-way around the world to fill our supermarket shelves with the same stuff all year round. Think globally - grow locally.


How is Permaculture different from Organic Farms?

Permaculture design is fundamentally different from any conventional agricultural, even organic farming, in that it seeks to imitate and cooperate with nature. Bill Mollison, regarded as one of the fathers of Permaculture, summerised its philosophy in three ethical paradigms and 12 principles.

Read full article

How Permaculture can save Humanity and the earth, but not civilization

Green Gold - John D. Liu


TOP plant profile Hemp)

Hemp (Cannabis sp)


Cannabis sp.


Hemp field in EuropeHemp is a beautiful, tall and gracious looking annual plant that can reach heights of up to 4 meters. The only member of its genus, it belongs to the family of Cannabaceae. Taxonomists argue over whether to consider the various strains as subspecies or separate species and there is little consensus at present. For the time being variations are considered simply as that: different strains. Distinctions are made between Cannabis sativa (hemp) Cannabis sativa var. indica (marihuana) and Cannabis sativa var. ruderalis, (wild hemp). These strains are in fact quite different in appearance and in action and in my humble opinion (I am not a taxonomist) would warrant separation into different species. I am not usually one to be so fussy when it comes to classification, but in this case it is of great significance, as we shall see. Cannabis sativa is slightly branched, bearing palmate leaves with 3-9 slender leaflets that are covered in fine hairs. Its inconspicuous flowers grow in a clustered spike, male and female flowers appearing on distinct plants. Its growing cycle is only 120 days. The flower heads especially of C. Sativa are strongly resinous, producing a tar like oily substance rich in THC. The dense clusters of seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and are a favorite bird food.


Apart from the fact that many animals like to forage on the plant, and seeds provide a nutritionally rich bird food, hemp is also excellent for the soil. Its deep roots help to aerate compacted soils. It is relatively resistant to many common viruses and plant diseases and requires little agrochemical treatment. Hemp is a pioneer plant that often grows as a weed. It is extremely undemanding and can be grown in very poor conditions and depleted soils and will actually improve the soil structure over a period of years. In Chernobyl and elsewhere it has been used for phytoremidiation to help clean up polluted lands as it has the ability to absorb various toxic substances from the soil and render them harmless. Its considerable biomass absorbs large quantities of the greenhouse gas CO2.


The story of Cannabis is full of ambiguity, though this confusion is caused by deliberate misinformation with far reaching effects on socioeconomics as well as on environmental matters. Hemp is the most universally useful plant we have at our disposal. The history of mankind's use of hemp can be traced to between about 5000 - 7000 BC. Remains of seed husks have been found at Neolithic burial sites in central Europe, which indicate that they were used in funeral rites and shamanic ceremonies. It is probable that at that time the distinctions between various strains were not as pronounced as they are today. Although some sources claim that all varieties of hemp contain the psychoactive compound THC, the actual percentage of this compound in the different species varies hugely. While there is almost no THC (0.2-0.3%) in the varieties grown for industrial uses such as oil and fibre, strains grown for their psychoactive effect have been bred to contain large amounts of THC (3-15%). Yet, in the eye of the law both varieties are treated as the same plant and in many countries both remain prohibited.

Weedy Hemp in NepalUp until and even during WWII, hemp was a widely grown crop, providing the world with an excellent and most durable source of fibre. Since it is an annual with a growing cycle of only 120 days it can be harvested several times a year, depending on local weather conditions.For many centuries hemp was one of the most important industrial crops which provided the fibres for rope and tough, durable canvass without which the age of exploration could never have set sail. The founding fathers of the United States, including the venerable George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were hemp farmers. Jefferson apparently had no qualms when he committed a blatant act of biopiracy by smuggling a particularly promising strain of hemp from China into Turkey, which was highly illegal and dangerous - the Chinese valued their hemp highly and made export of seeds a capital offence. To this day, China remains the main producer of industrial hemp.

Hemp also provided the fibre to make a durable paper - a far more sensible solution than the wasteful method of clear cutting old growth forests, or even the cultivation pine plantations that are ecologically speaking dead zones that take 20 years to mature before they can be harvested. Cannabis produces 4 times more fibre per acre and can be harvested several times per year. The first dollar bills were printed on hemp paper, your old family bible is probably printed on hemp paper and even the constitution itself was drafted on hemp paper.

Hemp has the strongest natural fibres, which can be used not just to produce rough cloth, such as sails or canvass, but also durable work clothes, like the original jeans. When the plants are grown closer together the fibre becomes shorter and finer, which allows for finer textiles. Today, there are some fashion designers that are experimenting with a wide range of textiles made from hemp for their stylish, trendy hemp lines, shirts, suits, bags, jeans and more. And, no- you can't smoke them to get high!

Hemp fibres are also finding application as a modern building material, an application that has been spearheaded and exploited successfully in France. Hemp fibres can be blended with water and limestone to create an extremely tough, light-weight, natural cement that has not only excellent insulating properties, but also shows more flexibility than conventional concrete, which makes it particularly useful as a building material in earthquake prone areas.

Henry Ford was eccentric in many ways, but he was also quite brilliant in his innovation. Back in 1941 he built a car that was not only entirely built from 'hemp plastic', but also ran on hemp fuel. Hemp oil, pressed from the seeds is also extremely versatile. It can be polymerized to create a solid plastic-like material, which is extremely durable, yet nevertheless is completely natural and biodegradable, which could replace plastics in numerous industrial processes.

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ethnobotany, agro forestry and NWFP news items