]]>Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:56:13 GMThttp://smallhousefarm.weebly.com/blog/me-and-wintergreenPicture

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve enjoyed picking wintergreen in the woods. The fresh minty smell of the leaves when you break them open, the refreshing flavor of the plump little berries.. plus they’re just cool looking little plants. With the bright red and green they always made me think that they looked like the perfect winter holiday decorations.

Growing up, like most kids, I spent a lot of time outside playing in the woods. Carving names on trees and chasing frogs, there was always fun to be found in the forest. When I got a bit older, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, I spent a good amount of time finding peace and silence in the woods. I was really into Tai Chi and meditation at the time (kinda weird for a 14 year old boy maybe) and the woods back behind my grandma’s apartment was home to my practice. It was peaceful and I was the only one out there.. aside from the squirrels, birds, trees and berries. During the summer I would pick blueberries and raspberries when I found them, but I was always drawn to the wintergreen. Even when there were no berries to be had I would still enjoy chewing on the tasty leaves.

Now fast forward a decade or so.. I’m a 25 year old man living in a apartment not too far from where I grew up. In fact, it borders the same woods I used to play in as a child. Just as I had changed dramatically in the last ten years, so had the beloved forest of my youth. It was no longer a sprawling forest that one could walk through for hours.. most of it was now roads and houses, small neighborhoods had sprung up in all of the old play places.. A small section of the woods had been reserved though, and turned into a nature area by the city. Luckily this was next to where I lived! It even included my old meditation space. The city had now named this area Huron Park. I’m not sure why they had chosen this name, but remember Huron Park.. it comes up again later in the story.

It was when I lived at this apartment that I met the young lady that would later become Mrs. Cohen. I had moved into this small apartment with two roommates and oddly enough, one of the roommates was friends with the couple that lived in the apartment next door. Small town stuff. The neighbors used to come over and visit on occasion and one time they brought their friend Heather along for an afternoon of playing Mario Cart. And yup, you guessed it, that’s the very same Heather that I share my Small House with today! Crazy huh?

Heather and I spent a lot of time walking through Huron Park together. That’s where we had some of our first conversations, and our first picnics too! I even tried to impress her by showing off how much I knew about the plants growing there in the woods by introducing her to my friend wintergreen. We certainly spent some time gathering berries together in those woods and those were some very special times that created some memories that will be with me for a lifetime.

Let’s fast forward again. This time right up into the present. Heather and I are happily married with two awesome young boys. We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share our Small House life with all of you in so many different ways. And our old friend wintergreen is right here with us. In fact, it grows quite prolifically in our woods. And in the 1100 acre forest across the road from us. An 1100 acre patch of wonderful nature that just happens to be called Huron Forest. I couldn’t have planned it better if I I had tried.


]]>Tue, 11 Nov 2014 18:32:53 GMThttp://smallhousefarm.weebly.com/blog/gathering-wild-carrot-seedsOur latest wild plant gathering adventure stemmed from a chapter in a book I’ve been reading entitled “A Guide to Nature in Winter” by Donald Stokes. Its a great little book that I was given by our Grandpa Bob in Pennsylvania.. Essentially its a guide to wildflower, tree and animal identification in the winter months.. pretty handy considering that most ID books deal with plants when they are in bloom during the peak of their season..

I was browsing through the chapter on wildflowers which is full of information on how these plants overwinter and the different methods that they employ to spread their seeds.. one drawing that happened to catch my eye was that of the wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s  Lace. If you are a reader of our blog you may remember that we shared our experience this summer making jelly from the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers.. so needless to say, we have quite a few dried flower stalks from this beautiful plant not too far from our home and we are certain how to identify them. One thing that’s important to remember is that wild carrot is very similar in appearance to poisonous hemlock. An easy way to tell the difference: carrot has a hairy stem, hemlock has a smooth stem. An even easier way to tell the difference: all parts of the carrot plant smell of.. carrot. Hemlock stinks.

I also learned that Queen Anne’s Lace is most likely the genetic originator of the common orange carrot that we all know and love. In a search to learn more about the early cultivation of carrots I discovered that they have been grown for food for at least a thousand years and they have found carrot seeds in sites where prehistoric man lived four to five thousand years ago! If you find this sort of stuff interesting like I do, here’s a link to a very informative article on the history of carrots from the World Carrot Museum of the UK.

What motivated me to head outside to gather some carrot seed, aside from the fact I knew right where to find some, was that Stokes’ book said that the seed makes a “good tasting tea, fun to make after a winter walk.” And that’s really all the motivation I need. So out I went. When the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers are in bloom they are large white unbellates, but now they have curled up into themselves to form a sort of bird’s nest to hold the seeds. The seeds themselves are small and spiny which is how they get dispersed, by attaching to animals as they pass by.

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Once the seeds were gathered, it was time to brew my tea. Wild Carrot Seed Tea has a long medicinal history with written records dating back to 200 A.D. It is said to be good for cleansing the kidney, breaking down kidney stones, relieving gas, easing digestion, and was also used as a contraceptive. In fact, that was the use that I found time and time again in my research. So it is very important to note that wild carrot seed is not to be used by women that are pregnant or breastfeeding!

I steeped one teaspoon of the seeds in an 8 ounce mug of hot water for about 10 minutes. The tea had a light brown color and a warm, spicy smell. It had a clean taste with a hint of carrot.. maybe more the carrot leaf than the root itself. I found it to be an enjoyable and warming beverage that was certainly “fun to make after a winter walk.”