The time of the grain harvest
Lugh’s intense and steady heat ripens the grains and sweetens the fruit. Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest season. It is an intensely busy, but also a joyful time. The work and effort of the early part of the year are paying off. The wheat harvest is coming in.
In Christian tradition, Lughnasadh has become Lammas, the ‘loaf-mass’ (from Anglo-Saxon ‘hlaf-mas’.)
From sowing the seed to harvest time, the period of growth is fraud with danger and the outcome is by no means certain. Unpredictable and sometimes violent weather conditions, and thunderstorms, threaten to destroy all the hard work in one fell swoop. Thus, when we reach Lughnasadh and the harvest has been brought in safely, it is an occasion to celebrate. As a sign of gratitude sacrifices are offered and bread, made from the freshly harvested grain, is broken and shared with the community.
Even as we reap the harvest and gather the seed, this is but one of the stages of the eternal cycle of life. The grain gathered now will sustain us through the dark season and provide the basis of next year’s growth. And so, the cycle continues.
This is a good time to come together in gratitude and to share the joy as well as the labor of harvest. It is also a good time to gather and feast together, enjoying the splendor of summer, as we celebrate friendship and community spirit.
On an inner level, it is a good time to reflect on the progress of your projects and enjoy their ripening process. Take a moment to express your gratitude and share your abundant gifts with those in need.
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Foraging Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus)
When autumn blows in and the leaves have all but disintegrated, when nothing but a few buds remain, as dormant hopefuls firmly closed at the tips of the branches, when only evergreens still hang on to their green foliage, I sometimes get the forager’s blues. Nothing much is going to stir until the end of January!
But wait – there is one thing, all too easily forgotten, that makes a perfect foraging crop for this time of the year: Jerusalem Artichokes.
Ecology – abundance for all
Although often grown as garden crops, they are also popular as ornamentals. They are the perfect ‘edimental’. They do sometimes escape the confines of the garden wall – although it would not be accurate to say that they have become naturalized (in Europe) or, for that matter, invasive, as some conservationists fear. But due to their vitality and habit of spreading via their tubers, they do have that potential. Gardeners sometimes lament the fact that once planted they are hard to contain. At any rate, for the wildlife, they are an asset, providing pollen and nectar for bees and other insects, seeds for the birds, and the roots have long been used as fodder. (Attention: they may attract wild boar!)
Cousin of Sunflowers
Neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke, these cheery plants are actually a type of sunflower, although their big cousin has a much grander stature: with their huge floral disk and enigmatic, spiral seed patterns they are quite a sight to be seen. A welcome food dispenser when their seeds ripen, Sunflowers are also bird magnets.
The Jerusalem Artichoke, on the other hand, has all the charm of a sunny garden flower whose bright yellow blooms provide blooming cheer in late summer. Alas, they are quickly forgotten, once autumn moves in and their flowers have withered and died.
Late autumn is the time when the crafty forager (who plans ahead) should carefully mark the spot, before s/he turns her attention to other autumn favorites.
As soon as Grandfather Frost has crept across the land and chilled whatever may have been left of the summer’s greenery, it is time to turn your attention to the underworld, where the life-force is hibernating, deep within the womb of Mother Earth.
Return to those well-marked spots with your digging sticks and poke around for the tubers of the Jay Choke (also known as Sun Chokes). Be careful, so as not to uproot the whole plant. There is no need to stockpile – the tubers stay much fresher right there in the earth itself, where they can be dug up any time you want them. (At least as long as the ground is soft enough to dig!)
The frost will turn the starch content of the tubers into sugars, which gives them a lovely, sweet nutty flavour. If you do decide to harvest the whole patch, throw some pieces back into the ground to ensure a continuous supply for the following year.
The tubers vary considerably in shape and size depending on your variety. Some are relatively straight while others look like a cross between a ginger rhizome and a potato, and are covered all over with little knobby protrusions. These types can be tedious to peel, but the good news is – they are completely edible, skins and all. Just scrub them well with a small brush to remove all the dirt. If you do peel them, toss them into lemon or vinegar water to prevent them from turning grey.
Although they can be collected all year round, Jerusalem Artichokes are an excellent winter crop, and they are best after the first frost. They originate in the US, but somehow, failed to excite consumers – or perhaps proved too tedious for growers, once agriculture became industrialized, since it was difficult to automate the harvest. The tubers also bruise easily, which is not a great selling point, as far as supermarkets are concerned.
It is a shame that they are not more commonly known, since they make an excellent replacement for heavy starches. Instead of starch, they store their energy in an inert sugar known as inulin, which is suitable for diabetics and does not add calories to the extent that other starchy vegetables do. They are also rich in iron, which is good news for vegetarians, and others who may lack this important nutrient due to excessive blood loss.
Jerusalem Artichokes are often compared to potatoes. However, it would seem to me that people who make such a comparison, have either never eaten potatoes, or else, have never eaten Jerusalem Artichokes. Other than the fact that they are both tubers they don’t have much in common, IMHO. Jerusalem Artichokes bear much more similarities to water chestnuts. They can be eaten raw, dipped in dressing, or added to salads, which preserves the crispy, nutty flavour. Or, they can be baked, steamed, stir-fried, or cooked. However, be careful not to overcook them, as they will turn to mush. Of course, you could mash them, but the resulting goo is not very satisfying. Nor will they turn crispy, like potatoes, when stir-fried. If you want to preserve the crunchiness it is best to slice them and to throw them in at the last minute. Or, just eat them raw.
Jerusalem artichokes are not considered suitable for dining in polite society due to the fact that they are likely to produce a lot of gas. Lacto-fermentation is said to reduce this effect.
In Germany, the tubers are used to distill a Schnapps.
The tubers could also make a useful biofuel (ethanol) species – it is very undemanding, produces prolifically, and doesn’t need any fertilizer or pesticides.
CAUTION: People, who are allergic to Compositae plants (daisy family) may be sensitive or allergic to Jerusalem Artichokes.
Baked Jerusalem Artichokes with Bread Crumbs, Thyme, and Lemon
- ½ pint crème fraîche or double cream
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 good handful fresh thyme, picked and chopped
- 1 to 2 handfuls grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 handfuls Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced as thick as a pencil
- 2 good handfuls of stale bread crumbs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil
Preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F.Gas 8.
In a bowl mix together your creme fraiche, lemon juice, garlic, half the thyme, and most of the Parmesan cheese, and season to taste. Dilute with around 6 to 8 tablespoons of water and throw in the sliced Jerusalem artichokes.
Mix well and place everything in an ovenproof baking dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 35 minutes.
Mix the bread crumbs, the remaining thyme, and some salt and pepper with a touch of olive oil. Remove the artichokes from the oven, discard the foil and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top. Then sprinkle the seasoned bread crumbs over the Parmesan. Use up all the bread crumbs. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the bread crumbs turn golden. If you’re in a pokey kind of mood you can poke the artichokes about a bit so some of the bread crumbs fall underneath them. This makes it look more rustic instead of like a crumble.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Gingered Jerusalem Artichokes
courtesy of Leda Meredith
1 dozen medium-sized Jerusalem Artichoke tubers
Cut off ends and scrub clean (do not peel) Slice into matchsticks or rounds no more than 1/4-inch thick.
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
Blend ingredients well and toss the Jerusalem artichokes into the marinade, cover, and leave in the refrigerator for at least one hour (or overnight–the flavors will continue to develop). Serve on small plates as a salad appetizer before a stir-fry or other oriental style meal. This recipe is also delicious made with Burdock root.
Making Rose hip Syrup
Rose hips are a funny fruit: Gourd shaped little piglets, wafting in the wind! The bright red berries sprinkle the landscape with a glorious, shiny dash of color. In their early stages, rose hips are rock hard and difficult to pick. The coat is thin, the fruit flesh meager, and their bellies are filled with an abundance of hard little seeds that are embedded in fine ‘hair. Perhaps, this hair is just as irritating to a bird’s throat as it is to a human one. Not so long ago, schoolchildren tormented each other by using it as ‘itching powder’. The best variety to use for this purpose is the Beach Rose, Rosa rugosa, with its big, fat squash-shaped hips. It yields an abundance of fluffy stuff.
I can never resist the temptation of biting into the first rose hips that turn red in September, even though I know they are still hard and very sour. Inevitably, I end up spitting out the seeds and trying to get rid of the little hairs.
Rosehips are best picked after the first frost when their outer cortex turns soft and sticky. At this point, they can be gathered without a struggle and are much easier to process, too. But depending on your climate, that may come late, by which time there are not so many hips left, or they lost their appealing looks. If you have plenty of space in the freezer, you can also pick them when they are fully ripe and then place them into the freezer where they can soften and you can use them when you are ready for a day of action.
My favorite way to preserve them is to turn them into syrup or conserves, which make formidable Vitamin C bombs – much needed to boost the immune system during the winter.
When picking wild herbs, or fruit, I always ask the tree, bush, or plant for permission and explain why I need their help. I tell them that I need them to heal and nourish my friends and family and that I would very much appreciate their cooperation. I find that a plant addressed in that way will be much more cooperative and that I will be much more mindful as I pluck their leaves, fruit, or flowers.
It’s not exactly ‘news’ that Rose bushes have sharp little thorns. Those foolish enough to approach roses ‘mindlessly’ are sure to carry forth the battle scars. The rose will win, even if you manage to get a few hips. So, a mindful attitude helps, a lot!
If it tries to tuck at my clothes or rip my collecting bag I gently remind it that I am not doing any harm. Usually, we come to an arrangement. For example, I let it hold my bag since it tries to get it anyway. That leaves my hands free to pull off the hips. Wearing gloves helps.
When I first started making rosehip syrup I went through the painstaking process of cutting off each hip’s tail and snout, halving them, and scooping out the seeds and hair before putting them into the pot. This can be a very drawn-out and fiddly process! In fact, it was a pain in the neck (literally!) But then I found a better way! All you nee are frost-softened hips.
Simply wash and clean the hips (top and tail them) and put them into a grinder or processor with a little bit of water and grind them to a pulp. Then transfer the mush straight into a pot of boiling water (leave enough space for the mashed rose hips). This saves hours of labor and, what’s more, it also saves the most vital constituent of the rosehip, the vitamin C. There is an enzyme in the hips that is triggered by exposure to oxygen. One triggered, it activates an oxidation process that destroys vitamin C. Interestingly, the vitamin C loss from boiling the hips is lower than the potential loss from oxidation and, the boiling water kills the enzyme.
As long as the rose hips are not too hard they will mush up very easily. In no time, you will have the sticky goo of seeds and fruit pulp floating in the pot. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat and allow to cool.
Once lukewarm, strain out all the solids and measure the liquid. To filter out all impurities, use a cheesecloth to filter the liquid after you have strained out the solid parts. Return the liquid to a (clean) pan and add a kilogram of sugar per liter of liquid. (Make sure you are using a large enough pan!) Stirring occasionally, let the sugar dissolve by itself for a while, before you return it to the heat. (This shortens the final simmering time considerably.)
Once the sugar has more or less dissolved, return the pan to the heat and simmer gently until all the sugar has dissolved completely. Meanwhile, sterilize your bottles. As soon as all the sugar is completely dissolved, fill the syrup into your prepared bottles, adding the juice of 1 lemon per liter of syrup. Top with a twist-off pop-up cap. Unopened, they will last as well, and as long as jams do, but once opened, they should be stored in the fridge.
St John’s Wort is the kind of herb that gladdens the heart just by looking at it. It is a well-loved medicinal herb with rich folklore and ancient magical traditions, despite the fact that it is named in honor of St. John, the Baptist.
Roses have long been valued for their various medicinal benefits. The petals are rich in essential oils, while the rosehips are rich in vitamins. The seeds are a valuable source of GLA
Everybody knows and loves the thorny, but beautiful rose, as a universal symbol of love, although we are mostly familiar with the cultivated varieties.
I adore wild strawberries! As far as I am concerned they are the ULTIMATE wild food.
The Elder tree is the medicine cabinet of the country people. This much loved, bushy tree is a common sight throughout Britain, Europe, and North America.
A parable about the ‘usefulness’ of other species’, vs. the innate value of all species for their own sake, and the preciousness of life.
Burdock may not be the prettiest herb, but it is certainly one of the most eye-catching. Its huge leaves and burly flowers are highly conspicuous. And it has plenty to offer.
Plant Profile: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) When the Hawthorn dapples the hedgerows with its pinkish-white blossom, we know that spring is here to stay. Typically, Hawthorn starts to flower at the end of April or the beginning of May, which is why it is also...
Everybody loves Dandelions! Nothing gladdens the heart more than the sight of a meadow covered in its bright yellow bloom.
Few herbs are as generous as the humble stinging nettle. Inconspicuous, it assumes a modest corner in the garden: untended areas, half in the shade, perhaps near the compost where the soil is rich with nitrogen. Inconspicuous that is, until one happens to brush against it carelessly – which jolts our awareness rather painfully.
If you suffer from hay-fever, you are probably not so well pleased with the arrival of spring. Pollen-laden air can be a source of misery. But a number of natural remedies can alleviate the symptoms.
Wild Garlic, or Ramsons are a forager’s delight! A marvellous spring tonic and delicious wild kitchen treat, this versatile herb can be used in many ways. This Pesto is just one idea.
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