SURVIVAL FOODS | 3 Edible Herbs to Forage

1. Slippery Elm Bark

While tree bark may seem like the least appealing option, various tree barks have been staple in traditional diets. The part consumed is the inner bark, and unless you are in a serious emergency, take great care to gather this in the way that won’t kill the tree.

As the name implies, the texture, especially when made into a “survival gruel”, is slimy. Though slime isn’t my favorite texture, the flavor is neutral and almost pleasant. The mucilage (slime) also holds medicinal qualities that can help soothe digestive and respiratory irritation.

2. Cat Tails

I’ll never forget the time I mentioned in a college class that in an emergency you can eat cattails. To the horror of my classmates, I had to explain quickly and behind bright red cheeks that I’m not talking about a cat’s tail, but this plant!

This water loving plant is common in wetland areas, and you may have played with the flowers which clump tightly together on a tall spike that looks like a corn dog. When ripening you can release the tight flowers and they expand into white and very fluffy clumps that blow away and/or get attached to all your clothes. While fun, the fluff is not what you want to eat, though it can help as fire kindling. The edible parts include the stalk and young stems, which can be eaten raw or cooked (after peeling the outer layers). The young shoots can also be eaten cooked like asparagus, the roots can be dried and turned into flour and the nutritious pollen can be collected and added to foods.

3. Hawthorn Berries

The pacific NW is overrun with the invasive Himalayan blackberries, so go ham on those if you see them first (a bonus survival plant to know). A less commonly known edible berry grows on the Hawthorn tree. Ripe in Autumn, these red berries are found commonly in the wild, beside meadows and city sidewalks.

Hawthorn Berries

They are great because they can be eaten raw and range in flavor from bland/mealy apple to juicy and delicious. They are small but can be gathered, deseeded then dried or turned into sauces, beverages and jams. They support cardiovascular health and are high in antioxidants. Just watch out for those thorns! Learn more about Hawthorn here.

Bonus: 1 Plant to avoid at all cost: Snow Berries

You may notice birds eating this cute fluffy berry but be warned, it’s poisonous to humans. You can find these shrub berries throughout winter in the forest understory, as well as ornamentals in gardens. Though not extremely deadly, you do not want the gastrointestinal distress these will cause even if you’re not in a survival situation.

*NOTE: Always get multiple reputable sources (such as a reference book and double checking with a local Herbalist) before ingesting a plant you find.

Stay Green! And keep an eye out for our local plant walks coming up in Spring by adding your email below.

Tags: Foraging, Survival Skills, Wild harvesting, Plant I.D., Urban Foraging, Wild Foods, PNW Plants

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Lion’s Mane | The fuzzy and actually kind of cute mushroom for your brain

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

This beautiful mushroom, also called Yamabushitake (Latin name Hericium erinaceus) is well deserving of it’s hype as a powerful nootropic.

While many supplements do exists, Lion’s Mane is also an edible mushroom and can be found at Asian supermarkets, farmers markets and sometimes I’ll find it at my local health food store (ex. New Season) here in Portland, OR.

What is a nootropic?

Nootropics are “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers that are drugs, supplements and other substances that may improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation.

While all edible mushrooms do contain immune supportive beta glucans in varying concentrations, Lion’s Mane’s specialty is it’s affinity with the nervous system. Nervous system health (or lack thereof) is associated with age-related cognitive decline, memory, mood and feelings of mental sharpness. And these are the areas where Lion’s Mane shines.

Mood and Depression

So about this year so far…I think that we are all reevaluating out mental space and can hopefully give more time and energy to those areas of our life that bring true fulfillment while minimizing areas that do not. Suffice to say, safe and healthy methods to boost mood are needed.

A 2019 study (here) shows promising research for therapeutic use of Lions Mane for depression, stating “It has been used to treat cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Bioactive compounds extracted from the mycelia and fruiting bodies of H. erinaceus have been found to promote the expression of neurotrophic factors that are associated with cell proliferation such as nerve growth factors. … H. erinaceus may be a potential alternative medicine for the treatment of depression.”

Another study (here) also shows a reduction in both depression and anxiety in people taking Lion’s Mane for four weeks (compared to a placebo).

These uses correlate well with traditional uses of this mushroom, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are also used frequently in Japan and Korea as both a food and as medicine for a wide range of complaints.

Mental Clarity, Focus and Memory

We all want to be sharp. One way that Lion’s Mane may promote mental acuity is by stimulating nerve growth factor. There are promising animal trials (here) as well as human studies. This study shows promising results for age-related cognitive impairment and memory in older adults. Another recent pilot study shows encouraging data with possible prevention of Early Alzheimer’s.

One area of interest that I think that will be explored more is if the combination of nerve-supportive properties of Lion’s Mane is further enhanced because of it’s immune balancing properties, since calming an overactive immune system may lower general inflammation (along with it’s high antioxidants content). This is more of my own Herbalist brain trying to connect dots, but there is a lot of exciting research on the horizon!

Lion’s Mane is native to North America, Europe and Asia, though I’d suggest finding a sustainable source or growing them at home to use. When eating mushrooms, don’t forget to cook them or process to get past their sturdy cell walls and access all their healthy goodness!

Autumn Abundance | Hawthorn Berry + Syrup Recipe

“Don’t eat random red berries!”

One of my first lessons in wild edibles as a kid. Years later and I have thankfully befriended at at least a few random red berries and confidently enjoyed their fruit.

Common names; Hawthorn, May-Tree, Hawberry, Thorn Apple.
Latin Name; Crataegus spp.

Hawthorn grows abundantly in Europe, Asian and North America. There are many varieties found just in the Pacific NW region that I call home, and I use most interchangeably. This rose family, shrubby tree often has lobed leaves, serious thorns and flowers that range from deep pink to white.

The leaves and flowers, picked in the spring, make a delicious tea. Come fall is when the fruit ripens. The bright red berries have a very subtle apple flavor, and the variety pictured here has one large center seed inside the fruit. Like many common foods, I think Hawthorn is best enjoyed mixed in with other ingredients and cooked; jams, pies, in apple sauce, tea and more! Unless it’s a survival situation, it can’t hurt to get creative!

BENEFITS OF HAWTHORN

Besides being a fun wild or urban foraged food, Hawthorn is high in antioxidants and may support a healthy cardiovascular system. Like most brightly colored fruit, Hawthorn contains flavonoids and antioxidants which help to fight off free radicals and ease overall inflammation.

Hawthorns affinity for the heart and circulatory system is pretty extraordinary. From known (see citations below) and unknown mechanisms, this herb may benefit and balance high blood pressure, blood sugar and is often used in a long term preventative and/or strengthening herb for the heart and vascular system.

In additional to the anatomical heart, the metaphorical heart can also be deeply nourished by this herb. Hawthorn is subtly relaxing, and has been a gentle herbal ally during grieving and heartbreak. For those experiencing a “heavy” or “tender” heart, try taking Hawthorn (leaf/flower/berry) tea, tincture or syrup daily for at least a week and see if that doesn’t help uplift, relax and brighten your mood a bit. Highly sensitive individuals may be able to feel an affect with smaller doses or even simply sitting with the tree.

HAWTHORN BERRY SYRUP

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Hawthorn is to make it into a syrup that I can use on pancakes and to sweeten tea with.

SUPPLIES NEEDED

Water, Hawthorn Berries, Sugar, Honey or Maple Syrup, a pot and a measuring cup

STEPS

Step 1. *Responsibly gather or purchase your Hawthorn Berries

Step 2. Place your fresh or dried berries into a pot of boiling water. For fresh berries use 1 cup of water per 1 cup of berries, and for dried berries use 2 cups of water per cup of berries

Step 3. Simmer the water and berries uncovered for 10 minutes. Gently crush the berries with a fork in the pot as they soften

Step 4. Let this cool slightly and finish crushing the berries in the pot

Step 5. Strain this mix through cheese cloth or a metal strainer. Use a spoon to help get out as much of the pulp as you can

Step 6. To this warm berry liquid, add equal parts sugar, honey or maple syrup and stir. Voila!

Pour into a clean jar, label with the date and refrigerate.

This Hawthorn Syrup should last about three weeks. Add to your favorite foods and beverages and enjoy!

*Responsible foraging means that you learn to accurately identify the plant, the correct plant parts, in the correct season, and use ethical wild crafting practices. If you are in the Portland, OR area we do offer Herb Walks and if not then there may be other herbal and wilderness hands on educational classes in your area!

Citations

“Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease”

“Effect of Crataegus Usage in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: An Evidence-Based Approach”

“Hawthorn: For the Heart”

Lobelia | The nasty herb for shoulder tension and wildfire lung support

The abundance and variety of properties in a single herb never fails to impress me. The idea that one little plant can wear so many different hats also helps reminds me how odd it is to try to pack any living being in to too few, and separate, boxes.

Illustration of Lobelia Inflata

Lobelia Inflata is a small plant who often sports little purple flowers, and who wears the following hats; Muscle relaxant, expectorant, antispasmodic, eases asthma, supports tobacco cessation, tastes kind of like poison and in large doses it is toxic. And of course in additional to those there are always other secrets to wonder about.

Lobelia is so nasty in flavor that it can literally cause one to gag. The lesson in this, I believe, is to work with this herb conservatively. To save your taste buds, a tincture is a better way to go over tea. A bit of loose Lobelia herb could be hidden in say, some strong peppermint tea, but to understand the individual affect, a tincture in a bit of water is a good bet. Due to the strong nature of this herb, a little goes a long way. Instead of the usual 30 drop dose for most herbal tinctures, Lobelia is more of a “drop dose” herb, meaning that 1-10 drops is usually sufficient to feel the effects. If you are sensitive, then you can start on the lower end.

And now the age old question, “so what do you use this herb for?”

A valid question, and I understand the enthusiasm! I do also want to spread the idea though that a more holistic way to approach herbalism is with a bit more open curiosity to what properties this plant has. These properties are all of those different hats, and they can change based on the the weather (your desired application for example) and the plants mood (those random factors affecting the plant, the sourcing and various factors within yourself, that limit homogeny and make life interesting). Ok so let’s start with the muscle relaxation aspect. Lobelia has the lovely ability to loosen muscle tension throughout our body in both our smooth and skeletal muscles. Just that alone means that this herb can greatly aid in tense, knotted shoulder or neck muscles, uterine cramps, leg cramps, restless leg, and even our tiny lung muscles if they happen to be constricted or spazzy from allergies, asthma or illness. Whether the muscle tension is from stress, injury or an inherited condition doesn’t change the effect, which is a deep sigh of relief and physical relaxation. The muscles calm, lose their stiffness and lessen in tone and spasms.

This physical relaxation often promotes emotional relaxation because when your neck loosens up, your cramps subside and pain looses some of it’s sharpness, it’s so much easier to feel comfortable and remember to see all the beauty around us.

As for Lobelia’s relationship with the lungs, the affect is twofold. You have the muscle relaxation aspect, which can calm a spastic cough, tense lungs and the emotional trigger aspect that can exacerbate constriction and breathlessness. The lungs open and relax. The second aspect it Lobelia’s expectorant property. Expectorant means that it helps to loosen, break up and expel excess phlegm from the lungs. So essentially it can help you hack up phlegm which can ease respiratory congestion. This could be beneficial in many ongoing or acute issues in the lungs, such as a chest cold or chronic bronchitis. I do want to mention to please consult a medical professional before attempting to substitute any conventional asthma protocols for Lobelia!

In addition to those with asthma, anyone in forest fire prones areas can often benefit from additional lung support. Here in Oregon, these last few years have been the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke. That mixed with the heat and excessive city emissions, August and September can be a tricky time for those with sensitive lungs and to a lesser degree everyone else as well. Thankfully this year we got a bit more rain than last year, and more of us are aware and becoming aware of small changes we can make to keep our environments, ourselves and each other healthier. Good news is that when we support any one of them, we support them all.

And lastly, for those who want to transition off of tobacco cigarettes, Lobelia can help with both the tobacco cravings and the inevitable cleaning out of the lungs from accumulated cigarette tar (even when smoked). While Lobelia does not contain any nicotine, it has been called “Indian Tobacco” due to it’s use among North American Natives, as well as it’s use as a tobacco alternative. The physical and mental relaxation properties can be of benefit when transitioning from nicotine, and Lobelia is often blended with other smoking herbs for flavor and effect. Surprisingly, the flavor of the smoke is not gross and can even be pleasant.

In case you are curious how to experiment with this interesting plant, I’d love to share a simple and balanced herbal blend to help support your hardworking lungs this season:

BREATH SUPPORT BLEND | Loose Leaf Herbal Tea or Tincture

1 Part = 1 TBsp Loose Herb OR 1 Dropperful of Liquid Tincture

5 Part Mullein Leaf

2 Part Marshmallow Root (Or substitute Licorice Root)

1 Part Lobelia Herb

Making a Tea: Combine your herbs. Pour 1 quart of freshly boiled water over your blend and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and enjoy! You can add honey or a sweetener if desires, and you can enjoy this blend hot or cold, one cup at a time. This blend should last about a day in the refrigerator. 1-3 cups per day is a great way to support your lungs during fire season.

Using Tinctures: Combine in a dropper bottle. Take 1 Droppersful in a bit of water or into tea 1-3x/day during fire season.

Thank you for ready and stay green!

If you are on the journey to quitting tobacco cigarettes, we have five different flavorful herbal smoking blends. All organic, no fillers, no nicotine, and made with love in Oregon!

Check out all of our blend HERE

EXPANSION | This Herbal Smoking Blend features Lobelia and Roses by Mossy Tonic

2020 Sustainability Goals Announcement!

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

― Martin Luther 

GOING PLASTIC FREE

Our values to nurture people and the planet mean that we are dedicated to preventing waste as much as possible. ALL of our packaging will be reusable (glass jars, metal tins), recyclable and/or compostable. We have been working towards this goal and are almost there!

ONE TREE EVERY MONTH

We are planting one tree every single month, period. We know we are interconnected, and that the shade of a tree that we may not enjoy ourselves is a gift of love. Giving back is natural and paying it forward feels good. And honestly we are happy for any excuse to plant a tree!

We are particularly inspired by increasing greeness in areas with the worst air quality. We are aiming to work with urban rental homes, apartments and communities near large roads. We think everyone deserves to enjoy the many physical and mental health benefits of trees!

If you are interested volunteering your time to local tree planting, or know of an area that could benefit from greeness, please contact us here

June 2020 Update

UPDATE ON OUR 2020 Sustainability Goal to 100% Plastic Free:

Super Greens + Cordyceps Mushroom | Powerful Powders by Mossy Tonic
Super Greens + Cordyceps Mushroom | Powerful Powders by Mossy Tonic

Our Powerful Powders are now 100% Plastic Free

Our packaging is simply glass with a metal lid, and is reusable and recyclable.

Inside this new low-waste packaging you will find our original, Organic and nutrient dense herbal Formulas inside.

Learn more about our sustainability goals here.

We think Earth Day can be every day.

Chaga Mushroom Tea

A food-as-medicine ally, Chaga Tea is a comforting, neutral flavored and deep dark brew.

Small chunks of Organically grown Chaga Mushroom, 2019

This unique mushroom looks like knotted bark, and is a blessing for those who do not enjoy the common texture and flavor or mushrooms.

Chaga is found in Northern Forests, usually on birch trees, in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Chaga colonizes tree wounds, and while it slowly draws nutrients from the tree, it also offers its antimicrobial properties to protect the wound from invasion of other harmful organisms.

Chaga is most well known for it’s adaptogenic properties. An adaptogen is an herb which helps to slowly strengthen and balance our immune response, stress response and hormone system (which is affected by an excessive stress response). Instead of overstimulating the immune system, which may aggravate autoimmune issues, an adaptogen helps to slowly build up a more proportionate response – one that can better target actual threats such as viral infections. This makes is a great daily tea to drink before the cold and flu season.

Bonus Health Benefit: Chaga has one of the highest antioxidant content of any food!

Chaga Tea

HOW TO BREW

  1. Find a good, Organic or Ethically Wild Harvested source of Chaga
  2. Use 1tsp of small chunks (or 1Tbsp of larger chunks) of Chaga per 1 cup of boiling water
  3. Combine water and Chaga into a pot, cover with a lid and simmer on low for 20+ minutes (if they are larger chunks you can simmer for 40 minutes)
  4. Strain into a mug or jar. Keep the Chaga bits! They can be re-brewed until the brown color fades
  5. Let cool until warm. Enjoy alone, added into Chai tea, coffee, or other teas. Add milk of choice and sweetener as desired
  6. Refrigerate strained bit and use within the month. Freshly brewed, plain chaga tea can last a couple of days when refrigerated.

Interested in learning more? Check out these sources!

Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630179

Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160565/

COMMENTS

  1. Silky smooth and I’m pretty surprised that my super sensitive skin loved this

A Minute for Milky Oats

Milky Oat Tea is simple way to incorporate a healthy, food-as-medicine herb into your daily routine.

Milky Oat Tops brewing in a single serving teapot

This nourishing herb can be infused into a restorative brew that is safe to take on a daily basis. Avena sativa (aka Milky Oat tops) are nourishing to the nervous system and help to slowly but surely balance out feelings of nervousness, stress and exhaustion. 


The high mineral content also benefits multiple areas. The magnesium helps to calm and soothe the muscles and the mind, while the silica and calcium help to promote and maintain strong hair, skin, nails and bones.

To get the most out of Milky Oats, cover them in freshly boiled water and let steep at least several hours or even better, overnight. You can make a big jar batch and store that in the fridge to used throughout the week. Great herbal pairs include Peach Leaf, Skullcap and added to freshly made Lavender flower tea.

Stay Green Plant Lovers!

COMMENTS

  1. Silky smooth and I’m pretty surprised that my super sensitive skin loved this

Letting the light in with St.John’s Wort

You may have heard about Hypericum perforatum, the weedy little herb with bright yellow flowers and who may help with lifting depression. What you may not know is that it had blood red oil glands, anti-viral properties, can interact with medication and that the claim of the danger of photosensitive is way over-hyped.

St.John's Wort fower | Taken in Portland, OR | Herbal Remedies
St.John’s Wort fower | Portland, OR

This cheery herb gets the “perforatum” part of it’s Latin name from the small holes that you can find on the leaves. When held up towards the sky, they quite literally let the light shine through. 

 In a less literal way, St.John’s wort  may help lift the blues. This can be especially helpful for that annual seasonal sadness that hits hard in high latitudes with little sunlight for months at a time (I write, as I stare listlessly out into the dark and misty Portland rain…)

While this herb has bright yellow flowers, the tiny red oil gland sprinkled on the leaves and flowers are what will cause a tincture, tea or oil to be a deep red. They simply look like tiny black dots but when you crush, soak or steep the plant, the oils are released. Pretty cool if you ask me! This feature can help you with plant identification and can also help you determine the quality of a St.John’s wort product. 

St. John’s Wort | Let’s the Light in 

Besides mood, this complex little herb is also used for wounds, viral infections such as herpes and shingles, and nerve pain and damage. It also has a stimulating affect on the liver. This could be beneficial for someone looking to kick start a sluggish liver, however, is can also affect medication by excreting it from the body too soon between doses. This is why it can interact with medication and why some people should consult their doctor before taking herbal supplements.

And lastly, will taking St. John’s wort cause you to get a horrible sunburn? There has been a less-than-ideal study on this subject , and while I can not say for sure, I will share my own experience (as a flaming “Ginger” mind you). I have taken daily doses of St.J’s in the late Summer and even when I was trying to squeeze out the last hiking and beach adventure days before Autumn, I never had a problem with sun-sensitivity. 

-Stay Green and don’t forget to let that light shine through! – MossyTonic

Check out our newest Organic Herbal Goods HERE

COMMENTS

  1. Silky smooth and I’m pretty surprised that my super sensitive skin loved this

Why Herbalism?

A Brief History of Herbalism and the United States

Stinging Nettle | Nutritious springtime food-herb 

          Since before written history, and throughout the world, archaeological evidence has shown that humans have used plants for ceremonial, magical and medicinal purposes.  What’s more, ingestion of plants for more than sustenance can even be seen in other animals today. 

          Plants can be seen on a spectrum from food to poison, with medicinal applications laying somewhere in the middle. We know preferred cooking spices and recipes are passed down along family and cultural lines. Consider that before we used, for example, Rosemary, Oregano and Thyme in a soup for flavor, that we first used them for their observed food preserving qualities (which mostly come from their strong anti-microbial properties).  We know now that those antimicrobial properties go beyond food preservation and flavor, and can aid us in our own body’s fight against harmful pathogens and infections. It is justifiably difficult to pinpoint the first precise times, people and reasoning for human use of medicinal herbalism, but it is clear that it has been a normal part of human life since our species can remember.

          Each region inevitably has their own local flora and traditions, and thus a unique way to use herbs for health and pleasure. American Western Herbalism started as a mixture of European and Native Americans Herbalism. Women tending medicinal herbal gardens were common in early America. What is unique about the United States is that there was more of a dramatic severance between holistic and conventional medicine around the 18th century. Witch hunts were on the rise and religious distrust of the Medicine Women/midwives was mounting from the newer and male dominated medical establishment. 

          Despite that divide, peoples innate curiosity for natural healing continued and American Herbalism developed further with Physiomedicalism and the Eclectic Herbalists of the 19th Century. During this time, which was also referred to as a time of “Thomsonian medicine,” there was an interest to pair more modern medical information and physiology with botanical medicine. The Energetic system in the Traditional Western Herbalism was solidifying, and Homeopathy was also developing. 

The bark of the Willow tree (Latin name Salix ) was extracted to make the original Aspirin  | Illustration from Dr. Otto Wilhelm’s book, circa 1885

          Since then, there have been pharmaceutical and over the counter drugs that started as plant derived before synthetic versions were created. The 1970’s showed another wave of traditions healing techniques, and currently we are seeing another comeback of interest in “alternative medicine” and a focus on nutrition, prevention and the role of emotions on health. Time tested ideas like fasting and elimination diets are also seeing a resurgence of research and interest. 

          In comparison, there is a wider personal and medical understanding of natural healing paradigms in some other counties, such as the Ayurvedic system in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TMC) in China. Possibly because there was not a sharp divide in healing paradigms, there is more of propensity to use both conventional and alternative medicine simultaneously instead of seeing them as in opposition. And as interest in healthier lifestyles increase, we too are heading that way as well, and it can be the best of both worlds!

          Now in many U.S. cities, it can be fairly easy to access Chinese and Western herbs and Herbalists, though there is still no official degree for Western Herbalists. Some other practitioners such as Acupuncturists, Nutritionists and Naturopaths may have a good background on herbal applications. The American Herbalist Guild is the most unified and official body and offers a rigorous application for herbalists to become registered with them.  There is a spectrum of Herbalist today as well, ranging from the more spirit-medicine or flower essence focused, to the active-constituent/scientifically-validated-study focused, to the diet, exercise  and food-as-medicine  lifestyle ones and everywhere in between. 

What is clear is that we are in a very interesting and innovative time for American Herbalism!

Want to read more on these subjects?  

Animals that use medicinal plants | Animals that self-medicate via PNASSmithsonian Article

Archaeological and Historical Evidence of Herb Use | Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wines , Historical review of medicinal plants’ Usage , Herbalism Through the Centuries 

Samuel Thomson of the Botanical Medical Movement

COMMENTS

  1. Silky smooth and I’m pretty surprised that my super sensitive skin loved this