The Healing Powers of Nature

My Mother processing fresh Elderberry fruit
Spring Dutchmans Breeches
Spring Dutchmans Breeches

With everything a little upside down with Covid 19, I thought I’d reflect on 2 of my favorite Early Spring flowers & Pollinators. ‘Dutchmans Breeches’ ( Dicentra Cucullaria) and ‘Squirrel Corn’ (Dicentra Canadensis). Dutchmans Breeches, hang sweetly upside down, attracts long-tongued Bees. Including Honey Bees, Bumblebees, Mason Bees, Anthophorid Bees and Butterflies. The first in our Spring renewal. The arrival of Robins, Red Wing Black Birds and Sleepy bears waking from hibernation a month early this year, renewal is just around the corner. I’m excited to see both plant species to confirm our Spring has Sprung.

Squirrel Corn flower in bloom early Spring
Squirrel Corn Flower in Full Bloom

Dutchmans Breeches are the first to arrive. Then 2 weeks later comes Squirrel Corn Flower. The blooms very fragrant whereas Dutchmans Breeches flower has no aroma. The Nectar spurs of Squirrel Corn are shorter and more rounded then those of Dutchmans Breeches. Do not pick either of these as they can cause rashes – Which I personally feel is a defense system to ensure Our Pollinators always have food.

Early Spring Ramps
Early Spring Ramps

Other plants in bloom that can found at this time of year are Bluebells, Violets in purple, white and yellow, Spring Beauty, Wild Ginger and Cut-leaved toothwort.

This is the time to be looking for Spring Ramps( Allium Tricoccum). Their green distinctively richer in color, poking up and grouped patches. Or in some cases…. swathes under hardwood trees in mixed old woods. It is important to note the ethical harvest of these delicious Spring goodies. Over harvesting of this plant has put it in a ‘High Risk’ category. When looking at the patch of Garlic Ramp you have to be especially choosy what you harvest. The 3 leafed stalks will produce a flower and future seeds. Those HAVE to be left behind to reproduce. Those seeds take 24 months to produce new greens. The first year only producing a bulb, with the following year it’s first greens. Then in it’s third year finally a flower to propagate itself. If the flowers aren’t left behind you can easily wipe out the whole plant very quickly.

Spring Garlic Ramps Clipped ready for pesto making
Wild Ramps

Only clipping the greens from 2 leafed stalks, you can proceed to harvest for a full flavored Pesto and Salads. In the picture here, you can see I have left the bulbs behind. I do harvest the garlic bulbs eventually, but not until after the plant has finished flowering. The leaves die back as the night time air becomes warmer in late June. The flowers start to bloom late summer, then after they’ve been pollinated, their energies focus on Bulb growth. I will take 2 to 3 per patch in September/October while rustling up the plant enough to allow the seeds to naturally drop. Thus helping to restart it’s regeneration while promoting its current growth and future cycles.

Mom Processing Elderberry
Mum! My 1 man processing crew

So Why am I talking about flowers and ramps with a cover picture of Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra). Well! There are medicinal virtues of our darling Spring Ramp. Specifically in the treatment of Colds and Croup. You can even treat earaches externally with a warm juice of the leaves. It’s a good thing we’re in isolation because there is nothing delicate and sexy about Garlic Ramp as a perfume, but its uses are well documented. Taking personal isolated walks to admire nature is highly recommended. The fresh air and activity alone is healthy and rejuvenating. You can admire the beauty of our indigenous plants along the way.

Elderberry Syrup for Sale
Elderberry Syrup

Last Summer we had an incredible harvest of Wild Ingredients. Which I squirreled away in my Studio. On offer to Wild Feast Clients are the following and their benefits.

Wild Elderberry Syrup – Standard Strength – $10.00 a bottle (pictured)

Wild Elderberry condensed strength – $20.00 a bottle : Elderberry is known for its’ antioxidants, vitamins and immune boosting qualities. It is recommended to help prevent & ease Cold and Flu symptoms. This syrup can be used straight by the teaspoonful or mixed in Hot or cold water as a beverage.

The condensed strength is triple power and only a small dose per day is needed. Limited Supply available.

Wild Ginger Syrup for Sale

Wild Ginger Syrup – $10.00 a bottle (pictured to the left) : Wild Ginger promotes circulatory stimulation and sweating, is antiseptic and antibacterial. In small doses in hot water it can sooth sore throats.

Elf-Shot Elixir – $30.00 a bottle:

Addressing all attributes of infections to viruses. This triple condensed Syrup has 8 main Wild harvested ingredients along with unfiltered honey with propolis and additional to taste. Elderberry, Fermented Spruce Tips, High Bush Cranberry, Chaga, Fermented Ginger, Fermented Garlic ramp, Catmint & Cinnamon Bark. The balance of ingredients are Antimicrobial, antibacterial, strengthens immune system, increases production of white blood cells, cools and reduces fevers. An expectorant and muscle pain reliever. It also balances Glucose and relieves a sore throat. One Teaspoon a day an hour before meals.

Only a limited supply available- first come first serve.

Chaga Tea

Chaga Tea (100% Boreal Chaga– $7 per 16 grams : Is a known Immune Stabilizer, Blood purifier and pain reliever. Also known for its anti-tumor properties. Use one tablespoon per 3 liters of boiling water and let soak for 4 hours. Drink the liquid but reuse the wet powder. Pour a cup of boiled water over used powder and let stand at room temperature for 2 days. Drink up to 3 cups daily 30 minutes before meals.

I like to be proactive in my selfcare. While not much has changed in my day to day schedule with Self isolation, I have dedicated more time for Walks in the woods with Lou (my trusty Dog & companion). Both of us in midlife happily meandering along through the forest at a snails pace. Frequently stopping to listen and observe. Our only thoughts of a warm & comfortable home and the thoughts of good friends, so far away but so close in our hearts.

Like Nature, we will metamorphize into something beautiful in its renewal.

EMAIL ORDER DESK ; rcummings@wildfeastcatering.com. Indicate through email what you would like. Within Kingston and Area there will be free delivery. Once an ewire transfer to the above email address arrives your order will be delivered. Or you can pick up at the Memorial Center Farmers Market Sunday (it is an essential service)

Outside of Kingston, an invoice (plus shipping) will be emailed to you for your selections. Once an ewire transfer is received for your order, you will receive a tracking number for its arrival.

Chaga Workshop-Jan 25th

Join me for an hour outdoor Forage to identify and collect Chaga. Then Into the Studio to process the Chaga into Tea or Coffee that can be used daily as a daily antioxidant and body healer. We will meet at 1 pm for a short winter walk. Then for 3 more hours you’ll learn how to break down and process into Essential Oil & learn the correct dosage . We will make Chaga Coffee and Tea for each participant to take home along with additional recipes and a list of medicinal properties. $40 per person – 4 hours total. Transportation will be required and please dress for the weather. All tools and ingredients are supplied

Historically in Cree Culture, a mythological character named Wisakecak threw a scab, which he had mistaken for dried meat (and tried to eat), against a Birch tree. To this day, it remains on the tree to benefit mankind. The Birch tree itself, is known as ‘The Tree of Life’ to aboriginals, as all aspects of the tree are edible. In current science, a Quebec Arborist found that when Chaga was crushed into a powder and made into a paste, then applied directly to Beech infected by blight ( caused by Cryphonectria Parasitica), healed within 2 years and then became blight resistant. Paul Stamets speaks about many other opportunities to utilize tree fungus species as a means of ‘innoculating’ or protecting other tree species, including commercial orchards. We will discuss this topic in further detail.

Internationally, Chaga has been harvested for a multitude of uses by North American Aboriginals, Russia, Poland, Korea & Japan. Each country conducting research and treating (with chaga) a wide range of health issues from Hodgkin’s disease, Tuberculosis, Liver disease to Cancer. It is specifically noted as a blood purifier and pain reliever. There has been uses in Diabetes in Western Siberia due to its water soluble polysaccharides which inhibit alpha glucosidase – preventing absorption of glucose. Chaga has been widely researched for its anti tumor activity, especially in eastern Europe. Specifically due to high levels of Betulin in specific areas of the fungus itself.

In this workshop, the participant will be taught the ethical harvest for future proliferation. The levels of uses (decoction to after paste & their applications). The Chemical constituents and proper traditional uses. The difference between the outer layer of the fungus compared to the inner layer. Hands on processing and samples of our find to take home.

Ewire your fee to confirm your booking at rcummings@wildfeastcatering.com

We are only accepting 10 bookings for this workshop.

Chaga Workshop-Jan 25th

Join me for an hour outdoor Forage to identify and collect Chaga. Then Into the Studio to process the Chaga into Tea or Coffee that can be used daily as a daily antioxidant and body healer. We will meet at 1 pm for a short winter walk. Then for 3 more hours you’ll learn how to break down and process into Essential Oil & learn the correct dosage . We will make Chaga Coffee and Tea for each participant to take home along with additional recipes and a list of medicinal properties. $40 per person – 4 hours total. Transportation will be required and please dress for the weather. All tools and ingredients are supplied

Historically in Cree Culture, a mythological character named Wisakecak threw a scab, which he had mistaken for dried meat (and tried to eat), against a Birch tree. To this day, it remains on the tree to benefit mankind. The Birch tree itself, is known as ‘The Tree of Life’ to aboriginals, as all aspects of the tree are edible. In current science, a Quebec Arborist found that when Chaga was crushed into a powder and made into a paste, then applied directly to Beech infected by blight ( caused by Cryphonectria Parasitica), healed within 2 years and then became blight resistant. Paul Stamets speaks about many other opportunities to utilize tree fungus species as a means of ‘innoculating’ or protecting other tree species, including commercial orchards. We will discuss this topic in further detail.

Internationally, Chaga has been harvested for a multitude of uses by North American Aboriginals, Russia, Poland, Korea & Japan. Each country conducting research and treating (with chaga) a wide range of health issues from Hodgkin’s disease, Tuberculosis, Liver disease to Cancer. It is specifically noted as a blood purifier and pain reliever. There has been uses in Diabetes in Western Siberia due to its water soluble polysaccharides which inhibit alpha glucosidase – preventing absorption of glucose. Chaga has been widely researched for its anti tumor activity, especially in eastern Europe. Specifically due to high levels of Betulin in specific areas of the fungus itself.

In this workshop, the participant will be taught the ethical harvest for future proliferation. The levels of uses (decoction to after paste & their applications). The Chemical constituents and proper traditional uses. The difference between the outer layer of the fungus compared to the inner layer. Hands on processing and samples of our find to take home.

Ewire your fee to confirm your booking at rcummings@wildfeastcatering.com

We are only accepting 10 bookings for this workshop.

Black Trumpets

I’m no stranger to hard work or long days. Growing up in a mushroom family, hunting for mushrooms meant two things – Enjoyment and Food. My Mother being a German refugee and broke as a young family, we all turned to foraging to augment the household stock.

Now I do it for pleasure and because I’m a chef. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been mushroom hunting, you’ll always be excited for a new find. This season being very personally challenging with a fractured leg beginning of May… then Pneumonia for what felt like forever( which I’m still getting over), I’ve only made it out twice to my favorite spot ever this year.

It’s 2 hours north of Kingston and a 6 hour Hike. 3 hours in… 3 hours out. Tracking the weather… today was the day. I left at 7 am to make the trek, my head filled with hopefuls. It’s been brutally dry everywhere but the radar showed this area had thunderstorms 2 days straight 2 days ago. My Spidey senses going nuts, I packed the car and got the heck out of dodge. I needed to be alone in nature so badly. I’m very much a introvert but do very much enjoy passing on my knowledge with classes and Airbnb experiences. These days on my own recharge me in a way I don’t think very many would understand and I try to schedule them for myself when I can.

Back to ground zero – the very property that 3 years ago I had my wildlife interaction with a Bobcat. Not a hungry Bobcat as I had found its recent kill ( a fawn). Looking up from the kill to see a full grown Cat looking right back at me. I can still see his eyes, so beautiful, the tuffs of hair on his ears moving with the breeze. His silence in his observation of me. Paws the size of side plates, this cat followed me for 2 hours. A experience only for the unrattled. I knew I was out of his territory when I heard the birds sing and the chipmunks chatter. I’m back there knowing my mushrooms are in the same place and the Cat… most likely moved on. I carried Bear Spray, non the less, just to be sure. It’s also Bear country, so one can never be too over prepared. I also carry 2 knives – one for mushrooms and one large hunting knife.

Today turned out to be Black Trumpet Day. Chanterelles in weak supply and dismal when found. No Cinnabar chanterelles ( they love water… lots of rain). No real Boletes either. Found a few of my favorite though – Old Man of the Woods ( Serious YUM). A pound of Lobster Mushrooms and 3 very lonely Hedgehogs.

When looking for Black Trumpets it should be noted that they can be very different looking from each other…. and EVERY book you’ll ever buy you will not show this . So following is a break down of Black Trumpets as they come and what they look like. It should be noted THAT all of the following pictures are from 3 flushes. 2 right beside each other, 1… 10 kilometers later (I’ll point out which mushrooms came from where.)

Spotted and fawn in colour. Most common Black Trumpet

Very light fawn in colour and stunted in growth
These ones are not spotted at all and are twice the size

Aborted in growth. Most likely started to grow and was hit with heavy rain. Full grown but are completely folding in on itself.
True Black Trumpet. Usually around the size of the top of a cup with a long stem.
Dried Black Trumpets. If they are fully grown and it rains…Black Trumpets will shrivel up. They are actually still good to pick. They’ve spored out and are actually amazing to rehydrate. it’s an amazing nature defense but luckily for us… still tasty.
These guys are BIG. They mix in with the leaf litter very well though. These are the guys I found 10 kilometers away. 10 of these guys made up 1 third of the Trumpet find today.

It’s surprising how many of these guys can make up a 20 pound find. They’re super light and my photos show no justice. My photos also don’t show just how many I found. On top of all the mushroom finds I also acquired almost 2 pounds of my absolute favorite wild herb… woodruff. The smell of it is the most intoxicating thing I’ve ever come across and this year is a bumper year for Woodruff 🙂

After picking through them all after getting home I had a lot of little bits. They notoriously break apart easily. Those bits went on Pizza. A Béchamel White Pizza… loaded with cheese. OMG it was so good.

Until you’re comfortable and knowledgeable with the different flavor profiles of each wild mushroom. I fully suggest using a food platform that you’re used too. Simplicity is key. Integrate new finds into your own menu. If you’re unsure… I’m one email away to natural food confidence 🙂

Much Nature Love …. Ruthie

Ultimate Nature Geek-Out

Boreal Forest

The only place I recharge is in the forest. I’ve retreated there most of my life and mid hike always take moments to ponder its serenity. I disseminate and break down why it is what it is. The plants, the trees, the insects… thinking about the ecological dance while watching foxes and chipmunks go about their daily business. Quietly and by myself. The roar of natures sounds so peacefully enveloping me.

I sit here writing this during a huge wind storm. The blustering winds rolling over the house stretch every shingle with every breath. It almost feels as though at any moment the whole house will be taken to flight. I’ve nailed the doors shut to stop them from flying open from the pressure and now sit quietly amongst a pack of snoring dogs totally excited about an old science new to me.

Biogeochemistry diagram

Biogeochemistry. New to me but actually quite old. First brought to my attention through friends experiencing difficulties at their farm while trying to cultivate truffles. I searched out more information on the topic and finally found the holy grail of Biogeochemistry . ‘Biogeochemistry in Mineral Exploration’ by ‘Colin E. Dunn’. That’s when the official Geek-Out began.

This book delves into a science most Foragers, Nature Lovers, Gardeners & Master Gardeners want to know but Geologists haven’t been good with sharing with us. To put it bluntly, Geologists having been studying surface plants & trees for a very long time… to figure out what is below and in the bedrock. Biogeochemical methods of exploration involve the chemical analysis of plant tissues to assess the presence and nature of underlying mineralization, bedrock composition, bedrock structure (faults, joints and folds), and the chemistry of the soil, surficial sediments, and associated groundwater. Biogeochemistry measures the concealed mineral absorption growth in Trees, Plants Fungi. The roots absorb minerals from depths down to the bedrock and deposit them on outer areas of the root system. Fungi are known for their scavenging and absorb in great quantities whatever happens to be below them. Mushrooms have the relationship with a tree as ectotrophic, meaning that a sheath of mycorrhizal fungi encases the roots. This mass of mycorrhizal fungi is estimated to connect trees with as much as one thousand times more soil area than the roots themselves.

?Wha?

We think of them as rock hounds but they’re actually silently studying our turf. How dare they NOT share.

By their own studies I can now walk into a forest and Identify what is happening below by identifying the trees and plant life above. This is actually one of the first things they do before ultimately taking samples for further laboratory study of concealed minerals. If I wasn’t so excited by the knowledge I’d actually spit in their direction.

Biogeochemistry found this area to mine

So while biogeochemistry is typically used for mining. My wish is to use it to better understand Native Plants & Trees in the use of food forests as we attempt to rebuild our ecologies.

Establishing a Food Forest

My view in the forest is ever changing and now with a this knowledge… I see deeper. It’s exciting! I have studied over the years a direct correlation between high carbon stored soils and fungi growth. This will definitely expand that as my new nightly bedtime reading is a textbook on biogeochemistry. A Drama of Nature unfolding before my eyes.

If you’d like a copy of the book, kindly email me and I’ll send you the PDF copy. Life has never been so exciting as now 🙂

Seasons Passes 2020

Only a Handful of Passes Left – Register Now

ONLY $120- you receive 4 Foraging Days at a value of $160

For those of you who have registered and Paid for their 2020 seasons pass, your passes will arrive in the mail the week of January 15th 2020.

Thank you and we look forward to seeing everyone this year

Getting your Ducks in Line

Basket full of Morels & Pheasant Back mushrooms, Spruce Tips, Asparagus, Dandelion and Nettle leaves
Spring Foraging Basket

Part of a successful Spring foraging hunt is the homework you do beforehand. It’s now mid November in Latitude 46.54. We’ve already been hit with a few snow storms but it’s still possible to find Fall edibles and mushrooms for at least another 2 to 3 weeks. Today I was looking for frozen Highbush Cranberries, Hawthorn Berries, Wild grapes and whatever else I could get my grubby little hands on.

My Lab support – Lou

It was a fantastic midday walk with my new trusty Dog – Lou. Just recently adopted, Lou is a retired hunting Dog and now my Foraging companion. I love looking for Bush Berries at this time of year because it’s simply just too easy. Each tree stripped of it’s leaves you can see things that before covered under the Summer leaves. Today I harvested all I was looking for. Highbush Cranberries are best after going through several freezing’s and defrosts. You just have to beat the birds to the score. Hawthorn berries are best when harvested before a frost but like grapes… their sugars concentrate after being frozen several times and make a delicious caramelized confection late into the season. I harvested the wild grapes and hawthorn berries together, mixing them in the same basket. They pretty much look the same mixed up but the balance of the two when processed is absolutely awesome. I’ll write another Blog post just on those guys but today I found Foragers Gold. A nice little patch of late season Wild Asparagus.

Snuggled smack dab in the middle of this picture is a late season Wild Asparagus. The golden colour unmistakable. The frilly frond ends giving itself away. In the words of Euell Gibbons ” About this time I noticed that an old, dry, last year’s stalk stood above every clump of new asparagus tips. If I could learn to distinguish these old asparagus stalks from the surrounding dried debris, then I would be able to locate the hidden clusters of green spears from a distance. Despite my impatience to be off seeking more of these tender spears. I sat down on the ditch bank and for five minutes I did nothing but just LOOK at one old dry Asparagus stalk. It looked very much like the dead weeds and plants that surrounded it, and yet there were differences. The old Asparagus plant stood about three feet high and had a central stem or ‘Trunk’ about a half inch in diameter which easily distinguished it from weeds with forking stems. Wind and winter weather had long since robbed the plant of it’s soft, threadlike foliage, but the horizontal branches were still there, though badly broken about the outer ends. These side branches, evenly spaced along the old stem, were larger near the ground and tapered to very small near the top, giving the whole plant a slender Christmas tree outline, although it was a very thin scraggly tree so late in the year. The color was different, too. Like all the rest of the dead plants it was straw colored, but on the old asparagus the shade was lighter and the color somewhat brighter.” – excerpt taken from ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’- by Euell Gibbons Copyright 1962.

I get a kick out of Euell. He reminds me of my Auntie Di, who also happened to be my second Mum (my mothers best friend). She, along with my mother, taught me everything there was to know about wild foods and then some. I have great stories about how she almost died but in the process discovered the cure for Wild Oak rash… but that will come later. I digress and must focus on my Foragers gold – Wild Asparagus.

What I had found today was an incredible patch. First sighting the above pictured Fall stalk, Lou and I kept walking into the high grass to discover stalk after stalk. Myself giddy with excitement, Lou just happy to be alive, together we tromped through stalk after stalk after stalk. I stopped counting after 100.

Now I know exactly where to look for my Spring Asparagus. Having now spotted it in the Fall, my search is only left to digging in between the tall Spring grass in my new little secret spot. Hopefully some will eventually make it back to my kitchen. I’ve been known to eat as quickly as I harvest. The sweet crunchy taste of fresh Asparagus is too irresistible

Lately, the seasons have slowly begun to shift. 25 years ago I would start my Spring Hunts at the end of March. Chomping at the bit to get out into the forest after the winter seclusion, I still hit my areas early regardless. Early Spring mushrooms being Oysters (Pleurotus Ostreatus) and Pheasant Back (Polyporus Elegans) not actually Morels like everyone thinks. I was told as a kid That these mushrooms (Morels) came up around the same time individuals would do their first lawn mowing. Well, that’s not so true nowadays. Between shifting seasons and over enthusiastic lawn-mowing homeowners, the season is actually the last 2 weeks of May and first 2 weeks of June in my latitude. Especially the last few years. Long after Spring Ramps make their prescience and just a short time before Chanterelles make themselves seen. This is when I find both Asparagus and Morels. The Basket of Spring Goodies tells all.

What we stick in our Mouths Matters to our Mental Health

I’ve always known ‘We are What We EAT’ but in reality many people just don’t view it this way. This includes our main stream medical professionals unfortunately. I’m not outing anyone but I do feel this is a topic that needs continued thought, study and practice. An article was brought to my attention by a good friend that I will post verbatim in this Blog. Her work is fabulous and needs more attention. Read the Article and lets start a conversation.

It was originally printed by © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. The article is as follows:

-Diet can have a significant effect on mood, say researchers.

Felice Jacka’s work showing that junk food shrinks the brain was motivated by personal experience. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Jacka struggled with anxiety and panic disorders; by the time she enrolled at art school, she was accustomed to regular bouts of depression, too, leaving her “devoid of happy feelings and unable to experience pleasure”.

But in her late 20s Jacka managed to recover and stay well by focusing on her diet, exercise and sleep. The effect was so marked that it inspired her to put her life as an artist on hold in order to dedicate herself to studying the effects of diet on mental health.

She is now head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry – a relatively new field of research, applying a rare scientific rigour to the link between diet and mental health. For her PhD study in 2010, Jacka found that women whose diets were higher in vegetables, fruit, fish and wholegrains, with moderate amounts of red meat, were less likely to have depression or anxiety disorders than those who consumed a typical western diet of processed foods, pizza, chips, burgers, white bread and sweet drinks.

Her study made the cover of the American Journal of Psychiatry; shortly afterwards, studies in Spain and the UK identified similar trends. Today Jacka is at the forefront of nutritional psychiatry, studying large samples of populations for indications of the impact of entire diets (not individual ingredients) on mental health. Correlations cannot prove causality outright, but by replicating results repeatedly, risk factors can be identified and studied further. Her new book, Brain Changer, is a straight-talking, evidence-based antidote (complete with recipe ideas for good mental health) to the bloggers and self-styled dietary experts who, she says, have “brought nutrition research into disrepute”.

“When I first started, people were terribly sceptical – they thought it was just rubbish,” says Jacka. “In psychiatry, people are trained to think about particular molecules in the brain that can be targeted by certain drugs and they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture – the body as a whole complex system.”

More than 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers later, Jacka has amassed evidence from all over the world showing that “what we stick in our mouths matters to our mental health”.

For her so-called Smiles trial, published in 2017, Jacka recruited 67 moderate to severely depressed people with unhealthy diets. Half received seven sessions with a clinical dietician while the others received “social support”, involving friendly conversation. After 12 weeks, one-third of those who had received nutritional support were in remission, compared with 8% of those who had had the social support. Scientifically speaking, says Jacka, “it was a pretty big difference”.

She is keen to snuff out fanciful ideas about quick fixes, and food trends dressed up as panaceas – the success resulted not from “clean eating” or coconut oil, but from following standard advice for a healthy, balanced diet. As an added bonus, the participants spent a little less on food than they did on their original diets – and probably ended up with bigger brains, too. In a 2015 study of 250 older Australians, Jacka found that the less healthy their diets, the smaller their left hippocampuses (the brain region linked with emotional regulation and mental health); the finding was more recently replicated in the Netherlands with 4,000 older adults.

Overall, Jacka has found that simply following a healthier diet – without other lifestyle modifications such as exercise, but taking into account things such as education, income, bodyweight and other health behaviours – results in a 30% reduced risk of depression.

That healthier diet may vary from country to country, but research has shown that, regardless of where you live, eating closer to a traditional, pre-industrial diet rich in plant foods, fish, unrefined grains and fermented foods, with less meat and highly palatable processed and snack foods, reduces your risk of depression. It could be the Mediterranean diet or Japanese cuisine rich in fish, seaweed, green tea and tofu, Jacka writes: “There’s not just one healthy way to eat.”

One unexpected finding of her PhD study, for example, was that cutting out red meat led to poorer mental health among the 1,000 participants. “We saw in our data a very clear pattern around too little or too much being problematic,” she says. “A tiny amount – three or four palm-sized servings [65-100g] a week – was associated with about half the probability of having a depressive or anxiety disorder. I suspect there’s probably individual variation in how much people need.” The need is probably greater in young women who are menstruating, adds Jacka (who does not eat red meat “for ethical reasons”).

Grain-fed beef (common in the US) is also less healthy than grass-fed beef, which is higher in the fatty acids that have been linked to improved mental health.

As for fish, eating it about three times a week is a component of many healthy diets – but there are unlikely to be extra benefits from eating more, Jacka writes. Fish-oil supplements can be helpful for some people with severe clinical depression, “but it’s definitely not a panacea for the wider population,” she says. “Have sardines on your toast, or some mackerel, mussels, or – if you can afford it – oysters.”

Jacka is the first to admit that we may never understand how individual ingredients of our diet combine to influence the brain: “The complexity of the human body is mind-boggling.” And because even the most beige western diet comprises countless individual chemicals invisibly interacting with each other, “we can’t even begin to measure all their effects”.

Cottage cheese, for example, is often trotted out as a mood-boosting food because it is rich in tryptophan, which is essential for creating serotonin, the “happy hormone”. If only nutrition were that simple. Scientists have failed to find any evidence that eating foods (or supplements) rich in tryptophan affects mental health, with other amino acids in foods restricting its journey from stomach to brain.

It is the trillions of micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeasts that live in our guts that help convert tryptophan into serotonin, and they can be encouraged by consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, and fibre from many different plant sources. But, crucially, it is not enough just to eat well: you need to consume all the nutrients and fibre your body needs – and avoid significant consumption of refined and heavily processed foods. “People are eating all this stuff that’s toxic and detrimental to their brain health,” says Jacka. One reason to avoid high-sugar diets, for example, is that they lead to an increase in the same inflammation markers that are raised in people with depression.

The gut microbiome is also key to regulating inflammation. Recent animal studies have shown that depression can be transmitted through fecal microbial transplants (“It’s poo in a pill, or ‘crapsules’”); Jacka is currently investigating whether good mental health can be transmitted the same way.

However it might be achieved, she is convinced of the need to address what she sees as the current mental health “disaster”. Unlike most risk factors for depression (including genes, poverty, trauma and abuse), diet is something we can modify – yet only about 10% of the population eat an adequately healthy diet, says Jacka. “The fact that we’ve got something under our nose that could potentially address a good proportion of the burden of depression is really important.”

The elephant in the room is the global food industry. “Big Food has completely altered the food environment so that unhealthy foods are the cheapest, most ubiquitous, heavily marketed, [most] difficult to resist and socially acceptable – as a result, the [world’s] health has gone down the toilet.”

The lack of political will to address this reflects the size of the corporations involved. “It’s just so powerful and influential, bigger than the tobacco industry,” she says.

Is Jacka gearing up to be the Erin Brockovich figure who takes them on? “That would be my life’s dream.”

With half of all mental-health disorders setting in by age 14, the importance of diet is especially relevant to young people – but as in the UK and US, Australian teenagers are eating multiple servings of junk foods every day, says Jacka: “This is not an occasional biccie with your tea.”

Messages about obesity and health problems in a distant, abstract future do not seem to be influencing people’s eating behaviours, but they might act on the knowledge that these same foods could be making them unhappy, says Jacka. “It’s much more in your face: ‘It’s going to affect me now.’”

Brain Changer: The Good Mental Health Diet by Professor Felice Jacka is published by Pan Macmillan, Australia

Winter Foraging Workshop at Topsy Farm

Wild Foraged Pickings

Whenever I suggest Winter Foraging to people I always giggle at the response. No one thinks that there is any viable foods available in our Northern deep frost, but let me tell you, there is plenty. In this particular workshop I gathered up a handful of hearty people keen to experience what the Canadian Boreal forest has to offer. Outfitted with multiple layers of clothing and good rubber boots we made our way out onto the vast property of Topsy Farms to see what we could gather. http://www.topsyfarms.com

We startled a large flock of Starlings into a Murmuration that mesmerized us almost into forgetting our task. Such is the beauty of the property here, but we trudged onwards across the slippery March ice towards an area of the Farm called ‘Lighthouse Point’. Along this area are many Juniper trees. Wind whipping off of the water we talk about the difference between the two Juniper species. Juniper Communis is the common Juniper tree. The berries are smaller but easily harvested with paper bags. Putting the whole branch into the bag you can shake the winter dried berries off in one shot. While with the other species Juniper Horizontalis needs to painstakingly picked off one by one. The needles sharp, so I always use my garden gloves for protection. Both species grow their berries in cycles and require 3 summers to fully mature. Once matured (turning dark blue) you now have competition for this tasty treat. Deer love to nibble on these along with the green needles. Most times when you find the Creeping Juniper, most of the berries will have been eaten leaving you empty handed. However, if the shrub is well established, the center branches will still have berries that the deer cannot reach. The berries on the Common Juniper are much smaller ( half the size) then the creeping Juniper. I collect both when I can because the taste is much more concentrated in the smaller but the larger are excellent to use when cooking long cured meats like Corned Beef or Sauerbraten. The picture above shows both. I am a huge fan of all Juniper berries because of one very important fact that most people aren’t aware of. Juniper is an anti flatulent. That’s right folks…. it’s a fart buster. Eaten fresh off of the tree when they are fresh or dried later in the year, these berries can significantly reduce or flat out stop unwanted gas. In the ‘Now you know’ context… make sure you have a steady supply of juniper in your home for any of the social awkward farting situations. There are also many other medicinal attributes to Juniper we shouldn’t overlook. Juniper is a Analgesic, antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-rheumatic, Antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, diaphoretic, disinfectant and stimulant. So much for such a wee Berry.

We collect only what we need for the workshop purposes. Later at the farmhouse, we are making Juniper fermented Honey and a Juniper sourdough starter. Recipes and photos to follow.

We start walking deeper into the forest and away from the shoreline. The wind drops almost immediately after we are surrounded by thick underbrush with a high canopy. This part of the forest is 90% coniferous mixed with more common Juniper, Cedar and Pine. We start to follow a Deer path and discover, hidden amongst the Conifers is, a nice patchwork of Hickory trees. Every 20 yards we are surrounded by the feast the local chipmunks had of all the hickory nuts. We collect a few remaining with the thought of cracking them apart while looking at the ingenuity of the chipmunks and their tough little teeth.

Entering the Deciduous forest

Looking for Pine trees to harvest needles the deciduous forest offers up a small few red and white pine hidden amongst the Maple, Hickory and Oak. It’s almost insane the division between the two forests that hug each other. Walking out the coniferous forest we leave behind the thick undergrowth where one felt hugged by green. Our voices muffled by thick insulation. The obligatory dog (all walks must include a dog) starts barking at noises in the distance. I could only guess were some of the huge population of Deer living here. I miss some of the very Pine trees we were looking for as I start scanning the forest floor for Deer Antlers. Always shed at this time of year and always awesome to find. Thoughts of all the different projects I’d like to do start running through my head – Chandeliers, Pastry pedestals etc. When we’ve wandered through this forest aimlessly for a while, we finally spot our prize. A beautiful white Pine. So tall has it grown that we can’t reach the first branches to harvest. However, as luck would have it, Amherst Island is always the recipient of strong winds and we find freshly blown branches that are easily collected off the forest floor. We load up the collection basket and make our way back to the farmhouse for refreshments and tutorials on 3 recipes with our Winter forest finds.

White Pine needles being boiled in water to extract the oils

White Pine Cough Syrup

First up is the White Pine needles. Our intention is to make an Aboriginal Cough Syrup made with honey. It’s actually a seriously simple recipe. The needles need to be boiled to extract their oils. First we need to separate the needles from the branches and give everything a good rinse. We got a great amount so I choose a very large pot to use. in a 12 liter pot I filled 3 quarters of the way full of water. Then set the burner on high. Typically I boil until literally all the color is released from the needles. This takes about 2 hours at high boil. Once this is done I pull off 75% of the needles. Leaving the remaining in the same pot because the action of boiling pushes a lot of the resin on the side of the pot.

White Pine Cough Syrup

I want this to be included in the Syrup. Adding unfiltered honey that still included propolis (tree resin collected by bees that have antiseptic qualities that helps strengthen the immune system against bacteria, fungi and viruses ), I put one cup per liter into the boiled white pine water to finish our syrup. Put the pot back on high boil. Do NOT stir and let boil at high for 30 minutes. You’ll want the mixture to reach a temperature of 230 to 234 degrees F to achieve a syrup. Once cooled, you can bottle as you please. I never filter mine as I want all the extra resin from both the bees and the tree. It does mean you’ll have to give it a good shake before using.

Juniper Fermenting in Honey

Fermented Juniper Honey

What you need: Juniper Berries, Honey, Glass Jar & Cheesecloth

I love this process and have many different foods and herbs fermenting in honey. All over the house are buckets are varying degrees of fermentation with Hot peppers, wild garlic (from last year), high bush cranberries to anything else I can get my hands on. The very same honey I used for the syrup is used for this Juniper Fermentation. In itself its active because it’s unfiltered. However, with this recipe I add only the Juniper berries. Unwashed juniper berries have a ton of natural yeasts growing on them. Once I add a handful of berries, stirred in, I don’t add anything else like in the other fermentations. Those recipes I need to add an active ingredient and I have added anything from fermented Pear juice to fresh pineapple juice (because they ferment quickly on their own). You have to be patient when fermenting this way. Leaving a cheesecloth wrapped around the opening allows oxygen exchange and more wild yeasts to blend in. Stir container at least once a week for 6 to 8 weeks. Slowly you’ll find small bubbles rise to the top with each stir and the color of the honey taking on it’s host – this means it’s fermenting and the flavors are infusing. When I bottle the finished product – I stop the fermentation through hot bottling with a seal over 30 minutes boil in water. You’ll want to do this for culinary uses so your bottles don’t explode under the pressure. I mistake I made last summer in the high heat of August bottling a experiment. Glass and Liquid honey everywhere. Ugh! what a mess.

Cracking Juniper berries to add to our Sourdough Starter

Juniper Sour Dough Starter

What you need: Juniper Berries, water and Flour

Because Juniper Berries are so naturally high in wild yeasts this is a recipe that anyone can do. Next Workshop March 30th is on Sourdough baking and we will use this starter to make our bread. That Blog will follow after or you can join the class.

This is way easier then you’ll realize. I take the Juniper berries and crush them. Today I used my Hatchet (partly because I love my hatchet but in reality I couldn’t find my meat pounder and my mortar & pestle is buried in my moving boxes still) . It does point out the simple fact that you could literally use anything to accomplish the same end result and well… I always seem to have my hatchet handy. I mix them evenly into the dry flour then add well water. City water has too many chemicals in it that could stop the fermentation and distilled water is basically dead. Our well water on the island is sweet but heavy. A nice addition to our starter. I add enough water to make it into a pancake mixture consistency. then I cover with cheesecloth and let nature take its course. I check everyday for bubbles starting to form at the top of the mixture. Once this has happened I start to feed it everyday equal parts water and flour until it’s quadrupled in size. Then it’s ready for your first bake.

If the water separates before fermenting… that’s okay. Stir it in and keep checking on it. Timing on this depends on many factors. The warmth of the air in the room, the type of flour used (Milled flour direct from the farm is always the best – it’s always very active in itself). You can buy grains and mill them yourself or just buy organic flour from your local grocer. I’m going to suggest finding your closest Farmers Market to buy there. Always support local and your bread will taste better because of it.

If you’re interested in any of our future foraging events please email us at rcummings@wildfeastcatering.com to sign up or contact us with questions.

A Good Day is Always a Day in the Forest

Winter Foraging with Misty- the foraging Puppy