Photos from Ireland

I’ve been home now for a bit over a two months, but still dream of Ireland where I spent three weeks in October. I have yet to create the blogs I still have planned to share about some of my experiences, but thought I could at least post some of my photo albums from the trip. These link to my public Facebook photo albums, which does not require a person to have a Facebook account.

Glendalough Monastary 1

My first days in Ireland were in the Wicklow Mountains and the Glendalough Monastic site just an hour or so drive south of Dublin. My very first activity in Ireland,(after remembering how to drive to the left)  was an unplanned walk in the Glendalough Woodlands and I was instantly transformed by this magical place. Photo album

Beaufort cottage 1 x

I then traveled to Beaufort in the Killarney area to stay a week near the largest intact Oldwoods in Ireland. It was amazing, I stayed in the cutest cottage surrounded by flowers, and walked trails and hedgerows alone harvesting fruits and exploring  ancient mossy yew groves and oak woodlands. Ethnobotanist, Kat Anderson, joined me there and we spent time exploring this magic land together with an eye on the plants and culture, as well as another friend Kat Koch who is living there, who showed me her favorite places. photo album

Basketry studio

After a week in Killarney (I could have stayed years) I traveled on to the reason I planned this trip to Ireland, a weeklong stay in Connemara working with famed basketmaker Joe Hogan. I stayed in a stone cottage with other basketmakers who came in from England, and had my dreams come true. I feel truly blessed by this time. I ended my last few days staying in an amazing manor house near one of the richest areas for megalithic sites, and a final day to go visit the must-see again-and-again National Museum of Ireland. photo album


Foray Along the Tolt

January 2, 2016

tolt confluence Winter scene2

These holi-days spanning Solstice and the New Year have been blessed by the touch of ice in the mornings, hoar frost accenting the lines of boughs and leaf, the solstice sun rising to illuminate the promise of our lengthening days. Bird friends ornament boughs with flashes of blue and red, tiny ones flutter near windows and flit along paths, twittering flocks pass overhead in the garden canopy.

A walk along the river trails, pools of water, recently flooding this valley, now held quiet in frozen slabs. The color red is a startling contrast against the icy white, browns and green- translucent ruby-red rose hips, the scarlet stems of red-twig dogwood, red tinged thickets of Nootka rose and vine maple. In the distance hues of orange and yellow stand in company with the suite of reds, sign of willows bare of leaves, buds already filling to burst into catkins announcing spring.

Winter harvests now of these rose hips, willow and dogwood osiers, sticky aromatic cottonwood buds, resinous roots, rhizomes and barks for those with the knowledge to create healing foods and medicines or to weave into fine containers.

New Apprenticeship- Ethnobotany & Traditional Plant Uses
Spring-Summer 2016

And for those of us who take these deep winter forays the signs of spring are already here, the swelling buds, new shoots from thick bulbs beginning to push through the leaf litter. As the wheel turns to the new year I am excited to unfold a new program starting in late winter, an ‘Ethnobotany-Traditional Plant Uses’ program, running February through September; two learning days per month, along with excursions and impromptu gatherings. See this site for more info, and let me know if you are interested, I am still designing the program and welcome input.

This is the time of the north, and I honor each season- though I love the warmth of summer, I feel a comfort in the starkness of winter mists rolling up the river, bare stems against the early darkening skyline, the stark intensity of a winter full moon and glittering constellations, the returning to homes filled with warmth and light to shake off the cold. I relish the traditions of this time of year, the first footings, all of the symbols of the sun calling back the light, the honoring of celestial events that have taken place unbroken for millennium, the annual death and renewal reminding of us of our own mortality and time to remember those who have passed before us. I light a candle to honor those who have passed and for the hopes of the coming year.

Christmas full moon from window

I hope to cross paths with you as the circle turns in 2016.

The Tolt River joins the Snoqualmie River near my home in Carnation, Washington. Its name is a trace of the first people’s name for this river, Toltxʷ representing an important village and fish trap located here for millennium, and it remains a critical habitat for salmon, eagle and others. A 9000 year old trail traveled upriver to another village and to what is now the Tolt Reservoir which provides a good portion of the water for Seattle.

Cattail Mats

cattail mat house, curtistiny

Paul Kane Chinook plankhouse smallAs pictures are worth a thousand words I will start with images, all of which inspired my research into this unique element of Pacific Northwest ethnobotany. You will see that mats are present throughout these images, yet, at the time I was beginning my research into the cultural history here, there was very little mention of them, perhaps a caption might mention mats, perhaps even ‘cattail mats’. And yet, they showed up everywhere- as seating, flooring, mattresses, insulation, storage, insulation on plankhouse walls, and as sheathing for the summer houses. (upper photograph by Edward Curtis: Lower painting by Paul Kane, Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey are made from the cattail plant Typhus latifolia, also called ‘ulal’ by the coast Salish, common in our wetlands, and called bulrush in other parts of the world. In my Scottish/Irish ancestry we also used them to make mats, thickly braided and sewn, as well as for baskets as they were also used here. It’s a great plant for many things including wildlife habitat, yet shunned in most wetland restoration projects as ‘invasive’ to my chagrin (don’t get me started!).

I found these mats in the museums, and then began noticing the tools for them, the long wooden cattail mat needles, the highly carved cattail mat creasers. This was the mid-90’s, did we even have google then? If so I wasn’t using it yet, and I’m not sure what I would have found, this information is so obscure and even now, incorrect. Instead I went to the books and museums, and eventually to the people who are still making them.

cattails dryingtinyIt was a three year process to make my first mat, figuring out how and when to harvest the cattail leaves, how to dry them and store them to avoid mold, deciding what to make my first fiber cordage from, how to make a wooden mat needle, and which is the best wood, how to use a creaser, how to sew it without tearing the leaves, how to properly bind them, and eventually how to use them. I was gifted with knowledge from ancestors in photos, and finally the upper and lower binding details directly from Fran James (Lummi) who along with her son Bill made cattail mats for the Burke Museum, which were also teachers for me.

cattail mats women sewingtinyThese are primarily sewn mats, not twined or plaited. This is a technique unique to Cascadia. I learned that tule mats made from hardstem bulrush of the Plateau region are also sewn, in much the same manner. I only recently learned while working with the Klamath Tribe (who used three types of rush mats for their housing- sewn, twined, and bundled) that a primary reason for using sewn mats on the exterior of a house is to shed rain easily. The ones used for seating and mattresses were often doubled-walled for added thickness. I’ve seen some fine examples of these, most recently at Karshner Museum in Puyallup, where I consulted on designing an in-depth program for school classes which includes each student making cattail mats.

Cattails MatmakingtinyI have been able to share my experiences and this knowledge back into tribal communities for many years now, where it belongs. (photo is of a workshop on cattails at Northwest Indian College making small mats).  I also offer cattail mat kits to schools, museums and educators, which I developed after many years of going into the schools to teach it myself. I’ve even made a few models for education kits used in parks and museums over the years.

cattail mat Bastyr projectThis year I’m offering my first classes in making  full-size mats to the public. I know only a few people will be interested, but I hope to help keep this knowledge alive in this sharing and to build appreciation for this skill and for the plant themselves. Those who take the class can take this back to their communities- harvesting the cattails, improvising for needles, making your own cordage or using commercially available fiber cordage.

This photo shows a student at Bastyr University on her finished research project for our Northwest Herbs class, which she plans to use for her morning stretches.


When the Pacific chorus frog begins its song in February, the new shoots of nettle have begun to emerge at the base of the dried stalks of last years growth. Tinged with purple, and fully armed with tiny needles filled with formic acid, they exude nourishment for those with the wherewithal to harvest them. Native elders of this area recall large pots of nettle soup made in early spring, and eaten until gone, a promising tonic for health in the coming year.

This plant embodies the philosophy of using the whole plant for a wide range of purposes. The new shoots for food, mature leaves and flowers for dyes, medicinal teas and infusions, seeds and roots for medicinal preparations; fibrous stalks for cordage, netting, clothing, even paper.

This plant was so important to native people in the northwest that large patches of it were nurtured near the winter village, much like patches of stinging nettle also grown near the blackhouses in Scotland, where it was prized to ease the hunger and provide fresh nourishment badly needed in late winter. Here in the Northwest we have the species Urtica dioicous var. dioicus; similar varieties are widespread throughout the temperate world. Romans were known to carry seed with them to ensure its occurrence in their new lands for its importance as a food source.

URDI patch at skedans
A large patch of nettle near an old village site on Haida Gwaii (grass in the foreground, scale shown by our guide).

For people who have never tried to eat stinging nettle it is a big step to take that first bite, almost a rite of passage for those who have committed to bringing wild plants into their foodways. Usually there is surprise or doubt when first suggested,  or in hushed tones, “I ate nettles once”. Yet nettle is a food that grows abundantly in our back woods offering itself freely, though guarded by tiny stingers, to those who understand its value.

A comparison of nettle to its counterparts for nutritional value is stunning. With many times the vitamins, minerals and protein of kale, spinach and chard, and yet it grows with virtually no effort on our part. I had that ephiphany one day as I conducted my twice daily slug patrol in my garden, and watched my spring greens struggle to overcome the challenges of early spring, under cloches and netting, and yet behind me, up in the hills these luscious spring greens were producing by the acre without the hand of man, yet mostly scorned. And harvesting done well doesn’t kill them, they continue to grow through the season and provide habitat, finally ending as stalks ideal for fiber and cordage. They grow in colonies with underground rhizomes so they return year after year. If we let them.

I use nettles in the same way I would use any cooked greens, and I look for spinach recipes to create new ways to incorporate nettle. Nettle cooked and chopped fine can be added to ricotta cheese in place of spinach as an ingredient in delicious lasagna. Chopped and ground with garlic in a mortar and pestle it makes an amazing, healthful pesto on bruschetta or tossed with your favorite pasta. I use them throughout the year in soups, especially my vegetable miso soup I love to make for lunch combining traditional roots and bulbs, greens including nettle, seaweed, ginger, garlic and other spices with miso.

But one of my absolute favorite spring dishes is a lamb, sweet potato and nettle stew which I adapted from Red-Cooked Lamb with Sweet Potatoes from ‘Spoonful of Ginger’, which starts with a quick sauté of lots of garlic, scallions, fresh ginger, cinnamon stick and chile paste in oil, to which 5 cups of soy and sake flavored chicken broth are added along with a couple lbs of cubed raw lamb, which are cooked until tender, then cubed sweet potato are added, then finally nettle leaves and tips. Full flavored and delicious I sometimes serve it on rice, or just as is, and I try to freeze some up for later in the year.

I generally harvest using scissors and paper bag, just using the scissors to cut and place the sprouts into the bag (see video below). I never harvest nettle past knee high if I am going to eat the leaves (it’s okay for tea).  I now use tongs at home to handle each shoot, and use scissors to cut off the tender bundle of new leaves at the tip, and cut off the larger side leaves, then I usually discard the thicker stem as they can remain tough, great in the compost, adding nutrients to the pile. Once cooked or dried the stingers lose their efficacy. I usually blanch and freeze a good supply to use, and try to dry a few bags as well to add to soups and stews.

See the following U-tube video where I talk about how to harvest nettle.  Here’s another link to a video just released of me making a traditional salmon soup using nettles and other native plant ingredients.

Ormiston Yew Tree – A New Years’ Day Adventure

A wonderful recounting of a very special day with my adventurous daughter in Scotland.

Live. Eat. Travel.


On New Years Day, 2013, my mother, Heidi Bohan, and I went on an adventure to find a famous yew tree that is said to be over 1000 years old.

My Mom had heard about this tree through some friends of hers, but didn’t know anything about it besides the name, Ormiston Yew Tree. We knew it had to be near Ormiston, Scotland just a 30 minute drive outside of Edinburgh. We were in Edinburgh for Hogmanay, and the next morning was the only day we could go.

We had some general directions, but nothing was specific enough to guide us there. Luckily, I found one blog that actually gave a great picture and hints on how to find it.  Here it is.      Thank goodness we found this blog, because any other instructions would have left us driving on dirt roads for hours.

We originally thought that we…

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Wild Berries and Nuts Demonstration

Here is a recent news article about a fun afternoon at Carnation Farmers Market where I shared time with wild foods author Langdon Cook cooking up wild foraged nuts and berries!

Demonstration Handout:  Wild foraged berries and nuts

Preparing Salal berry cake


Behold Cedar- Bastyr University Newsletter

Written by Jon Hiskes, student in the 2013 Spring Quarter, a lovely review of the class I’ve taught over the last 7 years.