There were a lot of things I didn’t get around to blogging about in 2010. Here’s a look back at some of them.
Awhile ago I wrote about leg waxing with sugar. But since I’m always interested in going even more “primy”, I wanted to try a more free and bio-regionally available body hair remover. So when my friend Brian gave me a full can of pine pitch I knew just what I was going to do with it. Sometimes pitch is hard and crystally, but this stuff was naturally soft like taffy. I warmed it up inside a pot of boiling water, double boiler style, and tried it out. Lo and behold it worked just like the sugar, maybe even better.
From what I can see, one advantage is the pitch is liquid at a lower temperature so its less easy to burn yourself, and also you don’t have to boil it, and either use a thermometer or test it repeatedly to get it to the right consistency. The disadvantage is sugar dissolves in hot water, pitch doesn’t so its harder to clean up. I would recommend doing it outside or on newspaper, using a dedicated container like the aluminum can for melting and a dedicated pitch utensil like a flat stick or butter knife for stirring and spreading.
Then be careful not to get it all over. You’ll get some of it stuck to you anyway. As my friends in Northern California know, alcohol or oil helps dissolve resin. I found a rancid glob of butter in my fridge and used that to get off the remaining sticky. It worked like a charm. Then I rinsed my legs because I didn’t want them to smell like rancid butter, even though they were very smooth and shiny and a great photo op at this point…next up, bikini line! ouch.
‘Tis the season for wild carrot (Daucus carota), also known as Queen Anne’s Lace. Now I know what everyone is thinking, “but wild carrot looks so much like poison hemlock that I’m scared to eat it.” I could address the differences here but you know what, I don’t think they look the same at all and I don’t cater to scaredy cats. Figure it out for yourself. There are plenty of resources out there, read them. Then take out your field guide, open it to the drawings and put your bar stool video game skills use playing “spot the difference”.
Urban Scout and I recently found the longest wild carrots ever growing in some piles of loose dirt in his Mom’s yard. I would estimate these to be 4 times longer than your average wild carrot, so unless you stumble upon a loose dirt pile or you start tilling of patches of soil with your digging stick like hunter gathers did (yes, primitive people cultivated the land, get with the picture) don’t expect your harvest to look like ours.
For eating, you want to find first year carrots. These are ones without flowers. They have only a basal rosette of leaves. You will likely find first year plants growing next to second year plants to aid your identification. These roots will be more fibrous and much less sweet than a domestic carrot. They are best cooked. I made a beef stew out of ours. Wildman Steve Brill uses them in carrot cake.
You can eat the wild carrot in its basal rosette form any time of year. So why is this THE season? Because the “bird nests”, the brown seed heads, have a long history of use as birth control (Yes, duh, of course primitive people had birth control, where have you been?). Funny that such a prolific and difficult to control weed would be good for just the opposite. Now I haven’t used the seeds as birth control myself, except as backup, and I don’t usually like to write about things I can’t vouch for, but I think this is important enough to make an exception.
For the very best information on the topic visit Robin Rose Bennett’s web site: http://robinrosebennett.com/wild_carrot%20article.htm
This herb is generally used like a morning after pill. One commonly discussed method is chewing up and eating the seeds, but the tea or tincture may be more effective. The flowers can also be used alone or with the seeds. There are a variety of options. Robin Rose now generally recommends that the tincture be used 3 times after intercourse, once every 8-12 hours, at a dosage of 1/2-1 dropperful each, seeds and flowers. She emphasizes not taking it too much, that withdrawl from the herb is part of its effect. So I emailed and asked the obvious question: What if you are having sex every day!? Would you take it only when you were most fertile? Her response was quick and concise:
“This question has certainly come up before. You could use that approach, take it only during fertile times, it works great unless you have a second ovulation or ovulate at a different time than usual during a month…so I’m more confident with that approach with women who chart their cycles /take their temperature, etc. What I would do is lower the dosage to one time after each intercourse instead of 3 times. And take breaks from the wild carrot when you are absolutely sure you’re not as fertile. Hope that helps.”
Maybe someday I can convince Urban Scout to try out this post-apocalyptic method of birth control. Either way, when you wake up from a wild night, remember the wild carrot!
For more information on this and related topics visit:
http://www.sisterzeus.com. Living with Our Fertility: A Women’s Guide to Synergistic Fertility Management, Fertility Awareness, Herbs affecting the Menstrual Cycle, Herbal Contraception & Herbal Abortion~ An Alternative Approach ~
Hi There! You haven’t heard from me in awhile. That is because I’ve been busy getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology . Now I’m done. You may have noticed a change in the subtitle of my blog: I decided to add Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to the list of topics. Over the years I’ve written about my health here and there, but I’ve recently come to the decision to incorporate more writings about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into my general repertoire. A lot of this comes as a direct result of my academic studies. One reason is that I feel it is important to advocate for the disease itself, which is grossly misunderstood and something most people simply don’t know much about. Labels can help and labels can harm. The name Chronic Fatigue Symdrome itself is problematic, as it lacks gravity, and comphrensiveness. Fatigue is only one of numerous symptoms. Nevertheless, for me it has helped tremendously. People categorize things. It is how they communicate. It took me 10 years to accept this label, and my decision to become diagnosed was a deliberate one, and I now bear it with pride.
I’ve spent so much time experimenting with different treatments, that I often thought of creating a second blog, something like trackerofhealth, but decided against it because although it helps to express feelings and organize thoughts, dwelling excessively on the subject can be painful, to make a whole site about it would be a big commitment. So duh, why not combine the two which is a more authentic representation of my life to begin with!
I hope I can be a positive role model (even though I may sometimes have “dark” thoughts on the subject) for other people with CFS, connecting them with my wildish interests, and for other rewilders suffering invisible, chronic, stigmatized disease who feel alienated from the community at large. The primitive skills scene, and most other DIY scenes, though they pride themselves on providing alternatives to modern society have a long way to go in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities, and I hope to make inroads into changing this. The American ethics of hard work, rugged individualism, and materialism are still very much evident in our attempts to break away.
I envision starting with something simple, support group workshops, moving up to perhaps a horse packing trip for women with fibromyalgia, up to a whole civilization rehabilitation center for learning and healing (hopefully I will find a healthy, energetic partner to help with this!). Many internships, gatherings, and wilderness programs are unsuited to people like myself who cannot carry a pack, eat a starvation diet (or a pasta and oatmeal based diet for that matter), or work 10 hour days 7 days a week. Pioneer heros, TV shows, and even Tom Brown Jr. stories can glorify the single-man survival style. For some people this is just not as possible and practical as it is for others. On a philisophical level I believe our culture will continue to create outliers who force us to acknowledge such problems, until a better balance between individualism and communalism can be struck. When marginalized people can’t “pull their own weight”, we must examine what weights they ARE pulling and why. What burdens and wisdom are they holding for the rest of us?
In the field of wilderness therapy most existing programs, though communal, are oriented toward backpacking and short term survival rather than long-term, hedonistically cushy simple living, which is what many of us rewilding types are all about anyway. While this may be appropriate for rebellious teenagers who thrive on stretching their comfort zone and testing their abilities, it is not neccesarily appropriate for those who have been “broken” by this world, those who have already undergone underworld initiation by any number of difficult and traumatic experiences and need or desire slightly more accomodating accomodations. I already know I can walk 30 miles in a day even with my condition, because I’ve done it, but that doesn’t mean its a good idea. I’ve got nothing to prove to myself.
The world of primitive skills gatherings is also highly communal, but in this craft-based culture a person is often evaluated by what they can produce, or can teach other people to produce. It seems to be less satisfying when, for example, you don’t make a hand drill fire all by yourself. But should it? When friends visit my house, they look at my things and ask, “Did you make this?” And who wouldn’t? That’s what people do. But if I, not even trade for, but just plain buy my hides, or pack basket, or a bow and NEVER make one, am I going to be viewed as less authentic? I don’t know. I hope not. What I do know is that because of my pain, it is difficult for me to complete most crafts, some like hide tanning require physical endurance and a certain measure of strength, but perhaps even worse for me are those that require sitting on the ground and engaging in hours of small repetitive hand motions such as loom weaving, basketry, and beading. I’d rather dig ditches any day. Admittedly, most all of the projects I have ever completed have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Another reason I am choosing to write about this topic is to give those around me a greater understanding of who I am personally. I am very independent and stubbornly capable of just about everything a normal person is capable of…for a short time. I am tanned, toned, and let’s face it, sexy as hell. I smile and laugh (though I never feel it in my core). I run and dance (though my joints ache, and I get nauseous if I stay up late). I travel alone and lift my 70lb tipi canvas onto its frame. I may come off as shy and skittish, doe-like. I am. People see that, but because of these other things most people don’t know I’m quite ill, and even those who know me well don’t understand the extent of it. You cannot judge the health of a person with chronic disease based on what they do, as this does not take into account the strength of their will, nor can you judge based on what they say, since you have no idea how accurately they are portraying their condition in proportion to the amount of suffering they are experiencing. I would hazard a guess that a good number of people who are accused of negative thinking, actually spend a good deal of time hiding, or skimming over unsavory details as it is not socially appropriate to continually answer the question “How are you?” with “Fucking terrible, and yourself?”
A note to people reading this: You may be tempted to offer helpful medical advice and suggestions. Thank you. Don’t. Almost all people with chronic disease suffer from an overload of “maybe you just need to…”. Most likely they have internalized these messages about what is wrong with them and now feel that they can’t do anything right, can’t eat right, can’t sleep right, can’t exercise right. I have not given up. I am currently undergoing treatment. If you have an herb or supplement I just need to try, I will give you my mailing address and you can send it to me, because I am not buying anything else, nope, not even digging it up. Same with services. You want to come to my house and give me a massage? Sweet. If you want to offer words the best thing to say is something like, “That sucks. I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. Let me know if you want to talk about it more.” If you would genuinely like to help, this is going to take offering real energy, not just ideas. My favorite thing is food and one thing I have a hard time with is feeding myself. Making me food is the number one best thing you can do for me. Contributing energy to helping me finish projects is the next best thing. Cognitive issues like concentration and motivation are huge with this illness so just having someone around helps keep me on task even if I end up doing most of the work myself.
Side effects of chronic fatigue syndrome often include pillow hugging, making frowny faces, and looking hot:
Have you ever been told “it’s all in your head”? Under Our Skin, a classic big-pharma conspiracy tale, is the story of what some call an epidemic of misdiagnosed and undiagnosed Lyme disease in America. It follows the lives of several Lyme patients as they seek controversial treatment for their illness by a few doctors whose livelihoods are continuously under fire for believing in the existence of chronic Lyme.
You would think that as someone who spends large amounts of time in the woods, I would be worried about contacting or having Lyme disease, but I never have been. My interest in this film came from my interest in medicine in general, especially those mysterious conditions which baffle modern medical doctors including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and even Autism. Lyme, often confused with or concurrent with other diseases, seems to fall into the same category as these, having widely variable neurological and immunological symptoms often written off as psychosomatic. As an attractive woman with chronic back pain, I particularly related to the female characters in the movie whose pain was discounted and difficult to convey because they “looked good”.
Much like Autistic Parents have organized around DAN (Defeat Autism Now) doctors, Lyme patients have organized a list of LLMD’s (Lyme Literate MD’s). I was surprised however that the film focused almost entirely on conventional medicine for Lyme which includes ongoing doses of antibiotics. For an example of an alternative protocol see Steven Harrod Buhner’s book Healing Lyme.
The movie seemed to insinuate global climate chance might be the culprit behind the rising incidence of Lyme. I find myself more concerned with increasing environmental toxins which overwhelm the immune system’s ability to cope with additional invaders and are implicated in many of the diseases discussed above.
On Friday I went with my friend Jana and her son Jackson to Powell Butte Nature Park in southeast Portland to harvest black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera) buds for salve.
Powell Butte, an extinct cinder cone volcano, rises near the headwaters of Johnson Creek – an urban creek with remnant populations of native salmon and steelhead. The park is comprised of 608 acres of meadowland and forest.
Cottonwood is a new tree to me. I never once saw an eastern cottonwood (P. deltoides) in my area of Pennsylvania although quaking (P. tremuloides) and bigtooth aspen (P. grandidentata) were quite common. Any of the Populus genus will have the resinous buds needed to make this salve, though some trees are much more sticky and fragrant than others, even among the same species. Winter and early spring is the best time for gathering, you’ll know if it is the wrong time, of course, because instead of buds you’ll find flowers or leaves!
The names, both common and scientific, of plants often offer clues to their uses and characteristics. The name “cottonwood” for example derives from the white cottony seeds produced by the female trees, though the wood itself is also soft and light, good for carving or making burn bowls. Balm of Gilead is another common name for some members of the cottonwood tribe and alludes to their healing resins. The true biblical Balm of Gilead, however, comes from an entirely unrelated kind of tree found in that part of the world, and this name is also applied to several other resinous trees. Too, I’ve been told that poplars “pop” when you chop them down. I doubt this is the origin of the name, but it’s a helpful reminder of the wood’s qualities nonetheless.
As a member of the Salicaceae family, which also includes willow, the poplar/cottonwoods contain aspirin like substances called salicylates making this salve ideal for anti-inflammatory purposes. I took my cues for this herbal project from Michael Moore. No, not the documentary filmmaker, but the author of Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. According to Moore, the salve is useful for sprains, arthritic joints, burns, and hemorrhoids. In addition to their antinflammatory properties, the buds are antimicrobial, increase blood flow to the skin and promote fast would healing, acting as a kind of primitive Neosporin. In particular he recommends a base of animal fat such lard or clarified butter. Lard is cheaper than olive oil anyway, so I was happy to oblige.
Materials: Buds, Lard, Pot, Jar, Cloth.
Step 1: Melt lard.
Step 2: Add buds. One part crushed buds, fresh or dried, to two parts lard by volume. I crushed the buds individually by hand, though I’m sure there is a faster and less messy way. My fingernails are still coated with resin.
Step 3: Cook over very low heat for at least 3-4 hours. I found the lowest setting on my stove was still too hot to avoid smoking, so I altered the directions heating the mixture, letting it cool down, and reheating it several times. You could also keep it warm in a low oven.
Step 4: Strain through cloth into jars.
That’s not all our generous lady cottonwood and her sister aspen have to offer:
-According to Urban Scout, cottonwood is the perfect bowdrill material. In particular the dry uprooted cottonwoods found in log jams provide naturally split roots for fireboards, smaller roots for spindles, a tough rounded outer bark for handholds, and light fluffy inner bark or the cotton for tinder.
-At Rabbitstick I was told that the white powder picked up by running your hands over the bark of the younger trees can be used as sunscreen.
-An article on aspen from Wilderness Way magazine concurs and adds, “The white powder found on the outside of the tree contains a good quantity of naturally occurring yeast. A sourdough bread mix kicked off with this powder will add some leavening and a great flavor to bread, pancakes, and other baked goods. Try scraping off a few teaspoonfuls, and add it to a soupy mix of flour and water. Throw in a tablespoon of sugar for good measure and wait a few days, stirring each day. The mix should begin to foam and smell ‘yeasty.’ “
-According to Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Pojar/MacKinnon, among other things, the Nuxalk used the bud gum of black cottonwood for baldness, sore throats, whooping cough, and tuberculosis. The Okanagan/Stl’atl’imx used it as a glue for securing arrowheads and feathers to shafts. Meanwhile, bees collect the resin, which is an anti-infectant for their hives and seal intruders such as mice in the resin to prevent decay and protect the hive!
-I find that if you bite a cottonwood bud your mouth will taste like perfume for about an hour as if you had just been necking with an elderly woman. Speaking of which the salve would probably make a good perfume if you’re into that kind of thing. I personally get a headache from the overpowering scent even without the oral exposure.
There are so many more interesting things about aspen/cottonwood than I can cover here, so I’d like to ask my readers what is YOUR favorite? Do you have a firsthand experience with one of these trees you would like to share? I’m also looking for folks to try out the finished salve and tell me how it works. I can even trade you some if you think you have a use for it.
Time to gear up for mushroom season. I found these babies outside of my apartment in Portland. I believe this to be a Prince mushroom, Agaricus augustus, based on the scaly, yellow-staining cap, combined with the strong almond-like odor of the flesh, and shaggy stalk among other features. David Aurora writes in All that the Rain Promises and More…, “One of the very best! The sweet fragrance and flavor are a real treat.” Looks like I’ve got a plan for dinner tonight.