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Oiche Shamna- Halloween in Ireland

Halloween= Hallow E’en= Hallowed Evening= Holy Evening= Holy Saints Eve= All Saints Day= Samhain

Folk museu Halloween labelsmallHalloween has its origins in Ireland, where it is still practiced today in ways which date back to pre-Christian times. The day of Halloween is called Oiche Shamna in Ireland now- Night of the Spirits, but was formerly the feast day to celebrate Samhain; most commonly pronounced sow (as in cow) hin. It signifies the last day of the harvests, the first day of Winter and the beginning of the Celtic Year. In the lunar calendar, which predates our Roman inspired solar calendar, Samhain is celebrated on the eve after sunset, the beginning of a new day in the Celtic world view, of the full moon of this season. The only Western Christian holiday still set by the lunar calendar is Easter explaining its varied dates, therefore Halloween has been given a specific date of October 31. Following the Lunar Calender for 2017, Halloween and most certainly Samhain would have occurred this year on the eve of November 4th, meaning November 3rd after sunset.

 

3 folk museum harvest weaving detail

Harvest weaving, sometimes called ‘corn dolly’,  holding the spirit of the harvest for the coming year.

To conceptualize that this is the beginning of the new year requires a shift in perspective, which I internalized by ceremonially casting seed at this time, imagining these seeds landing in their place, being covered by the falling leaves, swelling with the rains, breaking dormancy with the colds of winter, and sprouting at just the right time when the soil warmed. This resulted in a successful crop of parsnips under an apple tree, which has continued to this day. As I cast the seed I consciously thought of this time as the beginning of the new year, and throughout the winter months thought often of those seeds as they lay there sheltered, and likened them to my own sense of dormancy and coming growth at this time of year. Like a seed, I contain all of what has occurred in the last year, encapsulated, ready to bring forward in the coming one. This is a time of remembering, reflecting and processing as we ready ourselves for the coming year. It is a time of myth, song, ceremony and honoring.

 

“Well, we had all the grains in, all the potatoes, we used to houk (harvest) the potatoes all day and were finished by Halloween. There’s sort of a custom that everything was finished up out in the fields. All was supposed to be in before Halloween.”1  In Ireland the last of the potatoes and grains are harvested right up until this day, the fruits and nuts have ripened and are stored. The livestock have been brought in from the pastures and are provided with shelter for the winter, a large store of hay and grain set aside for their feed. It is now a time of rest and “man rests secured that sufficient food for both man and beast is vouchsafed for another winter.”1

This is November Eve and the Feast of Autumn, and celebrated with a bonfire a tradition which continues today in parts of Ireland. The last stand of ‘corn’ (wheat, barley or oat) was left unharvested to be made into a weaving which contains the spirit of the ‘corn’ and brought into the house for the winter, then returned to the field, plowed in with the first plantings. The technique used to make these ‘corn dollie’s (dolly possibly from ‘idol’ or the greek word for spirit, ‘eidolon’) is similar to those used to make willow baby rattles, as we learned from basket weaver, Joe Hogan during our recent visit in Ireland.

Halloween is sometimes referred to as Irish Christmas, celebrated with equal vigor, the foods being the same as those at Christmas. In the recent past it was one of only four feasts of the year that ‘butcher’s meat’ might be served.  There are many games played which involve fruit and nuts, sweet cakes and puddings, and the children sometimes refer to this day as Snap Apple Night, Ducking Night, Nut Crack Night. It was also sometimes referred to as Bonfire night for the ones set on this eve, usually made three or four feet high from cuttings from the garden, orchard and hedge, serving practical as well as spiritual purposes. The word bonfire may derive from bone-fire when the bones from ritual slaughter were placed on these fires. Bonfires were lit in each village, and all other fires extinguished, when at dawn each hearth was solemnly relit with the coals from the community bonfire creating a common bond.

Halloween is a weeklong celebration, even today, in Northern Ireland, particularly in Derry; a time when political differences are set aside. “A day of family reunions, meals, and fun, Halloween brings people of all ages together with rhyming, storytelling, family fireworks, and community bonfires. Perhaps most important, it has become a day that transcends the social conflict found in this often-troubled nation.”2

In virtually all world cultures it is recognized that this is the time when the spirit world is the closest to ours, and the door is open between the two worlds, as the night begins its reign. Many of the acts around Halloween today reflect this awareness, in particular the use of Jack O’ Lanterns, costumes, and pranks. In the Christian era, Halloween, or more so Samhain, was usurped as the day to honor all Saints whether canonized or not, hence All Saints Day was born. All Souls Day, also known as Day of the Dead was later set to immediately follow All Saints Day.3 This mixing of traditions, now celebrated in one form or the other virtually worldwide, has now made the images of ghosts, death, and sorcery (representing anti-Christian evil) the dominant theme of Halloween, overshadowing the other, equally important, elements of harvest feasts, the new year, and a time of rest.

Folk museum turnip for halloweenThe first Halloween lanterns were carved from turnips or rutabagas, a tiny candle placed inside, and were either placed on fences or in windows, or carried with a string handle, to scare off evil spirits, and ‘sufficient to scare the wits out of people’.4 Crosses might be placed over the door, and gifts of food were left out on the table on Halloween to feed the ancestors who might come visiting. People avoided traveling alone on this night and, even when in groups, only with the protection of their jack o’ lantern.

Folk museum signage hollow turnipsChildren in Ireland visited neighboring houses in the weeks leading up to Halloween, following the Equinox, wearing black sacks or white sheets, faces painted black and white, perhaps with a conical straw hat, offering rhymes in exchange for coins. This is called Rhyming, still practiced today. The better Rhymers create their own, though there were some often-used rhymes as well. The more creative the rhyme, the more coins, and perhaps none at all for those who didn’t create their own. It was acceptable to decline Rhymers after receiving too many in one night, or if considered too old. Handing out gifts of candy, fruit or nuts was rare, and considered poorly.

Pranks were especially conducted on Halloween eve. Pranks were often linked to the fear that the spirits were moving about. One, often recounted, involved tying a black thread to the door knocker, and from a far distance raising the knocker and, when the person opened the door and found no one in sight, it was feared that a spirit, or Death, had come knocking. Another involved covering the chimney with a wet sack, or even to toss a cabbage down it, filling the house with smoke. Clothing left on the clothesline might be removed and replaced with cabbage leaves. Mud thrown on windows, and other similar, and familiar, mean acts were also common. To be threatened or even chased down the streets, sometimes for a length of time, was a favorable outcome of pranks.

Apple seller IrelandThe feasts of Halloween emphasized the harvests and the foods served were associated with the supernatural aspects of the season. The turnip meat scooped out from making the lanterns, customarily by fathers and sons, was mashed and served. Dishes made from potatoes, such as colcannon, champ or boxty are common, and rings, thimbles and other symbolic items hidden within, which when found portended your future, especially related to marriage. Oat cakes were eaten and dreamed on. Apple, fruit and nut dishes were abundant. Apple pudding made with potatoes, flour and some sugar is a traditional dish, and might also include symbolic objects to cast the future. A goose might serve as the main course, and roast meat was traditional, however small. Cabbage and kale are served with lots of butter and mustards. Afternoon tea is better than usual, with a bit of currant loaf or pie. Fruits were made into pies, tarts, dumplings and puddings.

Folk museum Halloween necklaces etcApples were strung from the ceiling or placed in tubs of water in games we recognize today. Children made necklaces of rose hips, and hawthorn fruits, or from horse chestnuts. The dark brown nut of the horse chestnuts, also called conks, were tied to a long string, and children played a game called ‘Conkers’ where they took turns swinging theirs against their opponents, the losers those who’s cracked first. Fireworks are now part of Halloween celebrations, perhaps a modern take on the bonfire. It is a time of storytelling, song and rhyme.

Traditions we can carry into our Samhain and Halloween traditions include the feast foods, especially colcannon, cabbage dishes, apple and nut desserts of all kinds, and a roast of pork, lamb or beef. Strings of rose hips and hawthorn berries can be used as necklaces or garlands in our seasonal decorations. A weaving of stalks from the garden or field made into a ‘corn dolly’ can help preserve the spirit of the harvest for the coming year. Perhaps a rhyme can be offered when trick or treating. Make a bonfire from cuttings from the garden and orchard, and use the coals to start a first fire of the new year.

And, perhaps, cast seeds…

Sources and more info:

1) Journal notes of Edward McBride, County Monaghan, in 1933
2) ‘The Hallowed Eve’ Jack Santino, 2009
3) From signage at the National Museum of Ireland, Country Life- Turlough, County Mayo, Ireland
Note: Much of the information and most of the photos in this article were derived from my 2015 and 2017 visits to the Country Life Museum in Turlough (above). Various other sources including ‘The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween’ by Jean Markale, 2001, and ‘The Hallowed .

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-41811489

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-foyle-west-41775238  

 

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Aahh… Irelaund

See more photos go to my ‘Ireland Ethnobotany Exploration’ photo album

I’m home now a bit over a week, still dreaming and waking with Ireland on my mind, a place that, though I’ve touched it, breathed it, tasted it, still feels like a mythical place in my mind. Each time I return I feel I go deeper and deeper into place and time. I returned for this journey with students on an expedition I titled ‘Ireland Ethnobotany Exploration’ to revisit and share each of the places I researched and visited last time- the oldwoods, the bogs, the glens; the megalithic places from beyond human memory; and the traditional knowledge keepers, the masters. Places less frequented and people little known by most tourists. I added in a few extra places, and then extended my stay solo to be in the sacred River Boyne Valley, to also revisit places I’ve been but to experience again with my greater wisdom.  

It was the Oldwoods that called to me, the remnant stands of the once vast oak forests which covered Ireland, slowly cleared for agriculture, but completely devastated during the 1600’s, as of much of the world, for the production of charcoal to fuel the iron-smelting furnaces. I’ve seen poems lamenting the last tree cut in a forest, wondering how people were to survive now, records of when the forest was no longer. So I sought out the last remnants, and found some of the very few on my last visit. And they touched me to my core, filled me with knowing. It takes an effort to get to them, this time I hired local guides to lead us by foot and by boat to get to them, up and down barely worn paths.

A tiny, handwritten note found in my files from my first trip in 2001, led me to the most revered living basket-maker in Ireland, with whom I spent a precious week two years ago, and arranged to come back with a small group for our own private class, staying in stone cottages along the incredibly scenic Lough Nafooey in Connemara. We were so honored. And in the indigenous way, he opened the door for me, which I seemed unable to open on my own, to be with another magical person, one of the few remaining weavers of the Crios bands, whom we visited by way of a storm-tossed ferry trip to the Innisheer Islands, where we wove wool into sashes next to an open peat fire, cooking bread in a pot, and served tea in bright-colored china. I am bonded with love to these people now.

At every turn we encountered the deep history of this land, and incredible majesty of it, megalithic stone circles, cairns, dolmans, oghams, crosses, holy wells, forts and castles. The photos are magnificent and yet cannot come close to revealing the experience of it, the exhilaration, the grief and longing, the sounds of sheep and bird calls, seagulls and ocean waves, scents of the forest moss and berries ripening, the tastes of the land. We stayed in cottages and cooked our own foods following traditional recipes, using foods from the land of Ireland, a great pride for them. We made Criobs, potato baskets used for cooking, and drained our potatoes in them, reveling in that tiny connection to the past. We harvested hedgerow fruits, sloes, hawthorn, crabapple and rosehips and made hedgerow jelly to bring home to savor and remember for the coming year. We visited the local pubs and sang and played music with them, friends now in another land, and an inspiration for me take up my fiddle again to play that sweet music.

The River Boyne runs through the ancient lands of the kings and queens of Irelands myth, passing the Hill of Tara, Hill of Slane, the Bru’ na Boinne where Newgrange and Knowth reside. I stayed on after we all parted ways, in a sweet manor house in the ancient village of Trim, my room overlooking the river with views of ruins. I walked along this river, savoring my last days, climbed again to the Hills of Tara and Slane, and paid my respect to the mounds of Newgrange and Knowth. I left to fly home from this place and did not want to leave.

For most of us this is an ancestral return. There are no words which can describe what that means. I am still dreaming and waking with what that is for me, Irelaund runs as a discourse through my every action. Two days after arriving home I found myself on another ferry, this time with my car full of herbs to share at a tribal elder’s retreat, where I received from an elder and friend an amazing gift of my ‘sacred crane woman’ name beaded into a medallion, with a heron and a cattail, iconic of both of my homelands. And felt unbelievably grateful to be on the path that I am on, guided by the plants and animals and ancestors of these places. Thank you all who come to share that path with me in a good way.

Crane woman medallion

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Return to Pozos de Cabrere, Spain 2017

webPozos village view

I’m just back from my second trip visiting a beautiful village, Pozos de Cabrera, located in the mountains of Northern Spain, in Castille y Leon province. As in so many places in the world, they are struggling to keep their cultural knowledge alive, still in first-person memory, as their young people immigrate en masse to urban areas. This remote community still lived a pastoral lifestyle until as late as the 1990’s with ox-drawn carts, and mostly self-sufficient lifestyle raising sheep and goats, gardens, grain, flax and wild-forage. It has been a difficult and sudden loss for the people who remain in these remote villages.

I returned this year to see if there might be a way to support efforts to capture and restore the plant knowledge. I have been hosted both trips by Esmeraldo Otuerela and Laura Leffingwell, who run Esme Tours, a name that does not adequately describe the unique experience they offer. They generously supported this return trip with a greatly reduced fee, and organized my meetings with key people. I chose August because this is the time the families return to these now nearly abandoned villages. Those that have left are often nostalgic about these mountain homelands and hold on to their family homes, often restoring them as summer homes. You can read about my first visit and impressions which led to this trip in my post from last year.

Wendy and the plants

For this trip I was joined by Wendy Delaney, a pediatrician from Atlanta, Georgia, who read about this project from my post last year. She has been involved in missionary work in South America, and has a good perspective on cultural sensitivity, and an interest in herbal knowledge. She is also a frequent visitor to Spain and speaks Spanish fluently which was instrumental to this return visit.

 

 

weblemonade standThe village was full when we arrived, in marked contrast to my previous visit. Families all come together at this time, often now dispersed to various places around Spain and Europe, so this is a time of reunions and festivities. Cars and ATV’s crowded the tiny streets, and groups of all ages congregated in places throughout the village. The ‘bar’ in the plaza only opens in August, selling beer and wine, candy and ice cream, and is the only retail business in the village, other than the girls selling lemonade, considered quite American!

webPozos walkway and flowersDuring this time I was privileged to be able to meet with some of the amazing people working to keep the knowledge alive. Within hours of our arrival we were taken around by villagers to be shown plants and their uses. We met elders who lamented the impacts of newly introduced cattle herds on the hydrology and plants, as well as roadside maintenance mowing their plant resources.

Esmeraldo, our host, invited us to go to a Book Fair in Truchas, the main village of La Cabrera region, where there are stores, schools, library and council offices, and so, out of curiosity, we joined him over the next two afternoons. I was surprised and pleased to realize that the books at the fair were all by local authors who were there to talk about their work, and were primarily about the history of the region. There were also numerous books on the language of the region, Leonese, which has been distinct to the area, and being taught locally in the school. Wendy often did not recognize words and realized that they were speaking in this rare dialect. Esmeraldo, who is well regarded, introduced us to many people there, explaining our interests. During these conversations, one man offered to teach us willow basketry, to Es’s surprise, who had not realized he carried this knowledge, which led to our basketry experience documented below.

After our first visit to the book fair we went to a nearby bar, and again ran into the people we met at the fair. Importantly, we were introduced to Ivan Llabo, who helped organize the fair and very involved with cultural preservation. Wendy helped me query him about whether plant knowledge was being collected along with what we had seen, as I had not seen any focused references on plants. We learned that though an ‘etnobotanica’ book on plants was in development, they lacked the time to do the necessary interviews, as the few people actively involved with the cultural work, most of whom I’ve now met, either this trip or last, primarily now live elsewhere, returning to their home villages periodically.

I asked if I might help by bringing students to help conduct the interviews and he was enthusiastic about this.  This scenario was just what I had hoped for- rather than attempting to organize an effort as an outsider, instead support existing efforts. I also know that the people involved are interested in all aspects of plant uses, fiber, dyes, woodwork, basketry and more, as well as the medicinal and food uses typically studied.


We returned the second evening to the book fair, this time knowing that there was going to be a ‘reading’ of one the books by the various contributors, including a cousin of Esmeraldo. This was followed by music, which turned out to be an amazing educational presentation of the ancient musical instruments of the region, including a square double sided drum,  a handmade hide-covered violin as well as a washboard and spoons. I am constantly reminded while in Spain, how much of our culture in America was shaped by the early Spanish influence, predating the English. We felt very fortunate that the timing of our visit allowed for this opportunity, not intended for tourists, but for their own cultural preservation. It reminded me so much of what I’ve seen within tribal communities here in the Northwest.

webpozos-village-house-the-priests We also met with Demetrio Fernandez, a priest (also referred to as a monk) who returns at various times of the year to his home in the village, from Madrid where he teaches. He met with us outside his village home which is very photographic, and after talking for a while, pointing out plants in his garden outside the house, he took out his keys, appearing to get ready to leave. Instead, he brought us into his home, which other villagers marveled at later, since they had never been invited in. As a monk it is apparently his place of sanctuary. He wanted us to see the simple way in which he lives, and his herbarium sheets, which he uses as a form of wallpaper, on the walls and ceilings, which he described as keeping the plaster dust from falling. He shared some herbal handouts he uses in his teachings about herbs, which he conducts around Madrid and during the culture week in Pozos. We used these handouts to guide some of our herbal experiments while there.

webPlants herbal harvest pozos We spent one morning collecting some of the plants along the pathways of the village, finding wild mints, calendula, greater celandine, St. John’s wort, elderberry, and even some Oregon grape berries which were planted as landscape plants, and unknown to the villagers as food (they were quite concerned when I ate some), though they recognized my reference to berberine in the bark. Over the next few days we made oil infusions, juices and syrups from the berries we collected, as well as a delicious jelly from the Oregon grape berries, now a new addition to the Pozos menu!

webCabrera slate quarries village We took a day trip up through the Cabrera valleys, past the vast slate quarries, and over a high mountain pass into Galicia, visiting Ourense, driving along the beautiful Rio Sil gorge, dotted with hot springs. My primary interest for this day trip was to get a lay of the land, to gain understanding the relationship between Cabrera region and their connections to the Galician coast which abounds with seafood, a major part of the Cabrera diet, brought fresh to the village in food trucks. In Ourense we found a hot spring which had a public pool along the river, and for a 5 Euro fee, private pools of varying temperatures, with showers, and steam rooms. We spent a couple of wonderful webRio Sel villagehours there, then walked on the ancient Roman bridge the city is known for, and traveled back to Pozos through the Sanabria valley between Cabrera and Portugal. In this region we spotted a couple of small fires close to each other, and wondered about them, also noting the hills criss-crossed with wide roads I realized must be fire breaks, speaking to the hazards of fire in the region.

webToro wine tasting in the vineyardThe next day we visited the Toro region, which is a ‘Designation of Origin’ for the Tempranillo grape, brought back from obscurity to produce the red Toro wines unique to Spain. We visited one of the oldest vineyards of the region and shown the incredibly unique soil, a very sandy loam, with a top layer of rounded, small rocks which help to heat the soil, and learned about the specific agricultural practices to grow these grapes (no irrigation, chemicals or trellises). We had a gourmet tailgate picnic, provided by Nicole who operates the ‘Spanishpalate’, and was our host for the day, standing in the vineyard, tasting a variety of Tempranillo wines with some of the beautiful cheeses of the region. We even sampled some of the grapes fresh from the vine, which were deep purple and sweet, just weeks away from harvest. We followed the grapes to a modern winery where they are stored in oak barrels, then bottled and shipped around the world.

webToro cellar wine cave Back in the town of Toro we visited one of the many ‘wine caves’ which exist under the ancient homes, very complex systems which included stone chutes to unload the grapes from the street, massive grape presses to create the juice which traveled down stone troughs to the cellar where they were stored in huge oak barrels until ready to drink. Prior to glass wine jugs, they were distributed in the hides of sheep or goat, the legs sewn shut, and filled like balloons with wine, the neck serving as the opening. These cellars were a lovely cool place to get out of the heat of the day, hovering in the 90’s that day.

 

The village of Toro was in the midst of their weeklong August festivities, the bull-run webToro paella contest 3had occurred the day before. Today was the Paella contest, with teams creating huge platters of rice and seafoods to be judged. This was followed by a wine fight, where everyone gathered in the square, and to loud music, threw wine at each other. Yes. Big tanks of wine people used to fill their water guns and buckets. The fire trucks joined in with water hoses until everyone was completely drenched.
The next day, back home in Pozos, we readied for the basketmakers to arrive to show us baskets. Esmeraldo is famous for his cooking, so coming for a dinner was just compensation it seemed for our basket lesson. Es and his helper, niece Laura, prepared for the dinner all day, creating an amazing Paella, along with lamb and other feast foods.

When Candido and Seforino arrived with their bundle of fresh willow I was thrilled, as I had thought starting baskets at 6:30 was probably a bit late and perhaps it would only be a show and tell. But no! Dinner doesn’t start until at least 8PM in Spain so we had plenty of time. They showed us the techniques which I found unique to the region, and exactly as I’ve seen in the museum, and which makes use of smaller, field harvested willow. We quickly had two sweet baskets which we put to use the next day to harvest from Esmeraldos amazing garden. We had just enough willow left to show our host Laura how to make one on our last morning there, helping us to reinforce what we had learned (and what we didn’t!).


Throughout this time, we were fed the most amazing foods. I had asked Laura and Es if we could focus on the more traditional foods of Cabrera which I knew to include wild meats, garbanzo, grains and greens such as chard, though potato and tomatoes have taken center stage, as elsewhere in the world. Es is a fabulous chef, internationally known, and he made us rabbit, partridge, tongue, fish, prawns and lamb dishes with garbonzo, lentils, beets, chard, carrot, fresh beans, melon, and more in so many fabulous dishes. I am still sorting out all of our meals and attempting to create them myself. The gardens were full of fresh tomatoes and new potatoes so they were also a delicious part of our meals, and definitely part of the traditional foods today.

webPozos smoke and fiery sun
In the last days we were there, those tiny fires we saw in the other valley became part of a huge fire which swept through the Cabrera region, west of Trussachs, not far from us, which burned over 10,000 hectares, in the land through which we traveled on our day trip to Ourense. It is now a disaster area, the rains filling the rivers with black ash and mud presenting an environmental crisis in the area which is still unfolding. I wonder if plant restoration, teaching gardens and others might be of interest in the future there as well.

webBotanic Garden entrance

I finished my trip with a full day in Madrid, where I geeked out on their amazing botanical garden, the Prado Museum and their Archeology museum, as well as great food and wine.

In conclusion: by any standard, this trip was a success for me, and was so almost immediately, as my primary interest was figuring out a way I might be able to use my ethnobotanical experience to help preserve the plant knowledge of the region.

I will be working with our contacts there to see if I can organize a return trip, probably earlier in the season this time, when the plants are present, and less visitors in the village to allow time to interview the year-round residents, if they’d like us to help with that. I imagine there are other possible projects as well, such as restoration projects, field assessments, education gardens, etc. Numerous ethnobotany studies have concluded that tourism can play a role in preserving these regions as people come from Madrid and other urban areas to reconnect to their land, and with a new interest in traditional foods and medicines restoring the plant knowledge could contribute to the economic revitalization of this region. I can imagine a role in suggesting ways to do this, as one of those tourists, without damaging the authenticity of the truly unique region.
Please email me if you are interested in participating or supporting these future efforts.

Hogmanay, First Footing and the Ormiston Yew

I hope your First Footing, in the Celtic traditions of Hogmanay, portends a rewarding and meaningful coming year for you. And in the words of my Oglala Lakota friend Will Peters, “instead of wishing you all a happy new year, I’ll wish you all a hopeful new year, may you cherish every moment of happiness that comes your way.”

hogmanayFour years ago I traveled to Scotland with my daughter to experience Hogmanay in Edinburgh, one of the largest New Year’s celebrations in the world, to see how the Scottish celebrate it. I had started practicing a simple version of Hogmanay here in the Pacific Northwest years before, with friends of mine, some from Scotland, who knew of it as a tradition, where on the first day of the new year friends visit each other bringing gifts of food (whiskey and shortbread are traditional). The first person to cross your threshold is a ‘first footing’. If that person is a tall, dark, healthy person it portends a good year; if a blonde, short, unhealthy person, not so good! The tradition seems to hearken back to the Viking era, although it’s unclear how these omens were determined.

scotland-hogmanay-torchlight-paradeThe Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh is amazing with bands playing on the street throughout the city, a torchlight parade with thousands of us marching from High Street through town complete with Vikings and bagpipes, and fireworks throughout. And a lot of drinking of course. And the next morning the streets are practically spotless.

img_4650

Dea and I rented a car there on January 1 img_4652and using maps, blogs and GPS, found a 1000 year old yew tree I had hoped we might find, called the Ormiston Yew. The canopy on this tree is so large it has been used for church services, and important signing events throughout history. There was such as sense of calm and peace under that tree, a local family was having a picnic off to once side, but other than we were able to enjoy it quietly and with the reverence it deserved. It was a remarkable day, and I’m forever I had the chance to do that, and with my daughter, who really made it all happen.

I was blessed this New Year with my First Footing with a lovely, tall, dark, young man named Seamus crossing my door with a bag of oranges (with his family standing near), just after midnight. They know of this tradition for me, and gifted me with this visit, it was so beautiful. With this blessing, I feel assured of a good year ahead. I have so many things I’m looking forward to this year, including going back to visit some beautiful ancient yew trees in Ireland; returning to Spain to set up an ethnobotanical study there; exploring the Pacific Northwest and mastering new skills, in particular handweaving the ‘Crios’,  working with my wonderful ethnobotany and basketry students and finishing my new book ‘The People of Cascadia Activity Book’. And staying vigilant and participating in activism as needed in light of the political change ahead. I am hopeful.

I look forward to seeing or hearing from you in the coming year, and truly wish you a hopeful New Year!

To learn more about Heidi Bohan and her work: http://www.heidibohan.com

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Ethnobotanical Exploration in Spain

Ethnobotanical Exploration of the Cabriere Region of Spain

webvillar-del-monte-favorite-cottage

Last spring I spent a one week in a remote village in northern Spain in what is called the Cabriere region in Lyon. We stayed in the tiny village of Pozos, in a beautifully restored stone villa as guests of an internationally known chef, Esmeraldo Otueros, who was born and raised in Pozos, as part of a cooking and cultural experience through their business Esme Tours. There was little information on their website, and during our drive to the village, as the roads got narrower and narrower and finally became dirt, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. As soon as we arrived our fears instantly disappeared and changed to wonder.

webpozos-morning-view
View from the balcony deck at the lodge

The ‘lodge’ is a restored stone building, designed around a lovely courtyard, opening to a full kitchen with a wood cook stove as a central element. Our upstairs rooms were well appointed, the bathrooms modern and elegant, the heat from  wood-fired radiant tile floors, and there was a deck with a fireplace for our exclusive use, and the view was amazing. And the food we helped to cook was incredible. I had a vague understanding of Spanish food but learned so much while I was there. We created and ate the most iconic foods of Spain and of our region.

pozos-food-black-rice-seafood2

During our stay we were visited by villagers who showed me the salves they are still making, their family herbal liqueurs, the wild greens they still harvest, the baskets their families made. We went out harvesting wild herbs, visited cellars full of last years harvests, and made amazing meals from ingredients grown and harvested in that land for millennia. And most remarkably for me each person was intent on sharing this knowledge, seeking a way to hold onto it and knew that we understood the importance.

We were brought to other ‘visiting villages’ who are part of the connected region of the Cabreira and saw tiny museums set up in an effort to keep the knowledge, with efforts to teach back the skills of their history. This is yet another culture on the edge of losing its cultural knowledge, yet it is held in recent, living memory. Below is an image of a tiny private museum in Pozos, wallpapered with herbarium pressings, mixed with artifacts.

pozos-museum-herbairum-wallpaper

The population of year round residents is down to a handful (one of the ‘year round residents’ is shown below), with a surge in August when village families come home for their annual visit to houses that have been in their families since beyond memory. A few are being restored, while many more are collapsing, beautifully. One of the villagers who return annually is an herbalist, a priest and a professor in Madrid, who spends his month at home dispensing herbal remedies. He is also the man who created the tiny museum and herbal pressing seen in the photo above. Esmeraldo has cousins, one of whom I met and another I will meet on my return visit who carries plant knowledge, and want to share it.

webpozos-herding-chickens

The village still operates as a community with shared forests for firewood and timber, garden plots at various elevations throughout the village lands for each family, and the stone terraces for agriculture are still intact though collapsing through neglect.

I’ve set up to go back in August of 2017. I hope to bring 1-3 people with me to help establish an ethnobotanical study as needed. I’m looking for former or current students of mine who have plant knowledge, and ideally speak some Spanish. Please let me know if you are interested!

Rose Hip Gathering

Rose Hip Gathering

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bright, red fruit of the wild rose adorns its bare-thorned stems through the frost and snow of winter, often in the company of snowberry and red osier dogwood creating a bright visual bouquet on winter walks. These fruits are called hips and they hold the seeds of the wild rose which are surrounded by the thick fleshy skin which are known to be particularly high in Vitamin C, ounce for ounce about 20 times higher than oranges.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARose hips have been used by cultures around the world as snack foods, herbal teas, syrups, jellies and cordials. Herbal teas are made by simply infusing dried rose hips in hot water for a few minutes adding a lovely flavor to herbal tea blends, or can be used alone with honey. We have been including them in our bitters, and herbal liqueurs.

 

Rose hips are so high in Vitamin C, that in England during World War II it was considered a civic duty to make rose hip syrup made with hips from the hedgerows cooked with sugar to provide much needed replacement for the unavailable citrus. Studies have shown that while there is some loss of vitamins during cooking it is fairly minimal, and once preserved remains stable. Better yet is to use an alcohol extract to capture and preserve these beneficial vitamins. We use rosehips in many of our foraged cocktails ingredients such as our Northwest Bitters.

ronu-0512-croppedWhat are rose hips? At the base of each rose flower is a round seedpod which ripens through the late summer into a bright red fruit of fall and winter, known around the world for its healthful benefits. It is famous for its high Vitamin C content, and also contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and K, and studies have shown it to be anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.

 

Harvesting and Processing Rose Hips

ropi-frostsmallRose hips can be harvested anytime after they have turned red, and as long as they remain red and firm enough to handle, usually through the winter months, though they lose nutritional value as the season progresses. Freezing helps to soften the cells and make them easier to break down for syrups, and makes them more flavorful, though they are still useful and flavorful prior to freezing. If you’d like the benefits of frozen hips earlier in the season you can simply put them in the freezer for a day.

Throughout our region in the Pacific Northwest you can find patches of wild roses in hedgerows, along trails, and perhaps in your own backyard. You can use the hip from any rose, including the ones in your yard as long as you are sure that systemic fungicides and pesticides have not been used. Harvest the hips either with or without the stems, taking care not to cause harm to the branches, and making sure to leave plenty for the birds and wildlife who rely on the winter forage, who help to spread the seed as well.

rose-hipsShould you remove the seeds or not? On this point opinions and techniques part ways. The seeds themselves contain cyanide, as do apples and many other fruit seeds. More problematic though, the seeds inside the rose hip are protected in fiberglass-like fuzz which we definitely don’t want to ingest, it is hard on our digestive tract. So, the short answer is that if you are using rose hips in alcohol extracts and jellies you can probably leave the seeds in, as long as you are straining the whole mass out. However, if I am using rosehips for a puree-like jam or for tea I definitely take the time to cut them in half and scrape out the seeds with a tiny spoon (not my fingernail as I’ve learned the hard way, the glassy hairs get under my fingernail and persist for days). If you aren’t sure of your potential use, I would take the seeds and their hairy fiber out, while fresh, and then dry the hips, it is much harder to do this after the hips are dry.

tea-lesson-rose-hipsRose hips are easily dried in the house at normal room temperature in single layers on paper or in baskets with good airflow, or dried in a dehydrator with an eye on the heat, keep it low to maintain the nutritional value. Once dried they can be stored in tightly sealed glass jars for years. Note: I always keep my recently dried and stored herbs and food in sight until I’m sure they were thoroughly dried, checking my jars for moisture.

A simple rosehip cordial can be made with a cup of rosehips, brandy and sugar. A simple recipe here: http://www.givingground.com/page37.html . If you attend any of our Foraged Cocktail classes you will learn how you might use them in bitters, syrups, amoras and more.

Studies referred to in this article:
Vitamin C in rose hips after cooking: http://www.bmj.com/content/1/4243/559
Study showing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of rose hips:  http://www.naturalhealthresearch.org/review-rose-hip-2/

Amazing Nuts

Amazing Nuts

By Heidi Bohan

Originally published in ‘Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit- Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food Culture’ Segrest and Krohn, December 2010

nwic-mixed-nuts

Raccoon just could not stop eating the winter store of delicious hazelnuts his grandmother had carefully set aside in a pit near the plankhouse, and he used every trick he knew to steal those nuts. When Grandma finally caught him, she gave him the black stripes he wears to this day by beating him with a fire-charred stick.

Fortunately, today it is much easier to get that stash of nuts to add to your traditional foods diet. Our native hazelnuts and acorns, along with locally grown walnuts, filberts (commercially grown hazelnuts) and sweet chestnuts are widely available. Further away we get almonds grown in California, sunflower seeds from the prairies, pine nuts from the southwest or Europe, and pecans native to the southeast.

In the past native hazelnuts were harvested in the fall and stored in dry pits to eat as snacks. Acorns were harvested from the native oak and also buried in pits outdoors to allow the rain to leach out the bitter tannins until they were sweet and could be used in soups and stews. Though they did not make up a major part of the diet here, they were nonetheless an important regular addition to the diet common throughout much of the northwest. Eating small amounts of nuts daily should continue to be part of a traditional food diet.

Nuts are delicious, high in protein and full of Omega 3, the good fat which is also found in salmon. For this reason and others, numerous studies have shown that nuts are surprisingly important for preventative health.

  • Studies have conclusively shown that people who eat just a few nuts a day have 60% fewer heart attacks than those who eat nuts less than once per month. The beneficial effect of nut consumption to reduce heart attacks was found for men, women, vegetarians, meat-eaters, fatter people, thinner people, the old, the young and those who did a lot or a little exercise.

Further, eating just a few nuts a day

  • Reduces the risks of having a stroke
  • Helps reduce heart disease
  • Helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes
  • Reduces chances of developing dementia, advanced macular degeneration and gallstones
  • Calculations suggest that daily nut eaters gain an extra five to six years of life free of coronary disease, and that regular nut eating appears to increase longevity by about 2 years.

To gain these health benefits it is best that nuts be raw, and not roasted because high heat reduces many of the health benefits. Since nuts are very high in calories it is also important to use nuts to replace other high-calorie foods rather than increase your calorie intake. So instead of eating high-calorie, processed foods such as potato chips for a snack, consider a handful of nuts or some nut butter on whole grain toast, crackers or apple slices.

Traditionally the acorn from Quercus garryana, known today as Oregon White Oak or Garry Oak, was used in soups after being leached of tannins in pits. Sweet chestnuts, which are not native but grow well here in the Northwest, can be used in the same way and add a nice texture and flavor to soups such as butternut squash or mushroom soup. Both of these nuts can be made into flour by drying and grinding them to be used in place of a portion of flour (but not all) for baked goods such as muffins and pancakes.

If you can ward off squirrels and jays, our native hazelnut, Corylus cornuta, is a wonderful addition to the diet. Markets carry ‘filberts’ which are the same nut but a different variety from Europe and are grown here in the northwest, one of the only areas in the world to grow them commercially. Walnuts come in two forms; the very hard-shelled American native ‘black walnut’ and the more commonly known and softer shelled ‘English’ or ‘Persian’ walnut. There are many walnut trees growing in our neighborhoods, and it is possible to get up to 125 pounds from a single tree. Both hazelnuts and walnuts should be ‘cured’ by drying in a warm place right after harvest, then stored in a cool dry room.

Easy ways to incorporate raw nuts in the diet include adding walnuts or hazelnuts to morning oatmeal and eating raw nut butter with slices of apples or celery sticks. You can make your own nut butters using a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Nuts can be used in stuffing, croquettes and patties, cookies, salads, in pesto (nuts ground with herbs and oil into a paste) and seasoned and lightly roasted for snacks. Nuts can be ground into flour and used in pastries. Nut oils such as hazelnut oil and walnut oil can be used in salad dressings or for light cooking.

Nuts are considered an important part of sustainable agriculture because they require minimal care and provide an important source of fat and protein not provided in most vegetables crops. Many cultures have relied on nuts as a mainstay for good reason, and it is time to bring nuts back into focus for healthy, traditional food meals.