Saturday, 20 August 2016 00:00

We have been trying out a new organizational structure at my community based on the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. It looks like there is a new illustrated version out. The illustrated version is great for those who like a visual representation of the concepts you are reading. The illustrations also help break the text up into sections that are easier to read.

As far as using the concepts at the ecovillage, we are just getting started, so we are learning and growing. I will write a bit more about the results when we are further along. Here is a nice video about the illustrated version of the book.


Friday, 29 May 2015 00:00

I will admit, this book is pretty obscure. It was generated by a Kickstarter campaign and is published by Botanical Arts Press, out of Accord NY. Now I happened upon this book, in part, because of some personal connections and in part because I love foraging for food. One thing that is made very clear in the introduction section is that author Dina Falconi feels much the same way. She speaks of her discovery of herbs, their medicinal properties, and foraging as it relates to both her love of food and medicine.

As most foragers do, Dina emphasizes taking a respectful and well educated approach, as not to overharvest and damage your local ecosystem. To further emphasize this, many of the plants featured in the book are considered “weeds,” as they are tenacious, abundant, and the bane of many traditional groundskeepers and gardeners. Toward the end of the introduction, she talks more about her approach to food and how she prioritizes both taste and nourishment. I personally agree with this philosophy, of course I want to eat something that is good for me, but I want it to taste good too. She closes with a wish for her readers, that the book may “empower you to forage and to feast in earth-loving ways – to take part in this delicious, creative revolution by gathering wild salads, cooking root soups, baking feral casseroles, brewing leafy beverages, simmering berry syrups, churning herbal ice creams, concocting therapeutic elixirs – basically finding, harvesting, and preparing amazing, nourishing food for yourself and your family and friends."

The book’s first section is all about why - why she does this, why the book was written and why, you the reader might care. The next section leads to the how. It emphasizes regenerative harvesting, providing a list of tips, including some basics, like never harvesting endangered species, and thinning over crowded plants to promote health. The author includes tips on how to harvest roots, leaves, stems, flowers, shoots, seeds, and fruits. Following this is a brief section on land assessment, taking into account the environmental contaminants in a given area. The general rule seems to be to harvest from areas that are at least 20 feet from small roads and buildings and 50 feet from large roads and more densely populated areas. While the tips provided some basic guideline, this section closes with more in depth descriptions of timing and techniques for harvesting and storing all parts of plants.

The plant identification section is easily the most eye-catching section of this book. It is probably the part that when flipped to, will get the casual peruser hooked. The illustrations by Wendy Hollander are both beautiful and informative. While the illustrations may not always perfectly reflect the coloration of the living plant, the way a photograph might, they have the advantage of pointing out specific plant features of interest. The Dandelion, for example, is depicted in early spring, late spring, and fall with cross sections of root and stalk. Each illustration focuses on the aspects of the plant that would be of greatest interest to a forager in the season when it would be available. Further, and especially in cases where one plant might be confused with another non-edible, they highlight the features that make it most easy to identify. An example of this is the European Black Current, where the toothed margins and lobe features of the leaf are both clearly illustrated, labeled and emphasized. Below each illustration is a section that describes habitat, life cycle, reproductive method, size, and culinary uses. The culinary uses section even includes a list of page references to recipes that feature each plant. Overall, this section really is dense with an abundance of clear information, but it is presented in a way that would be easily understood for even many beginner foragers.

Next are the charts. First, is a plant biographies chart, which features each plant’s common name, genus, species, family, life cycle, place of origin, and reproductive strategies. Another chart covers plant habitats and growing conditions, and another the seasons in which to harvest each aspect of the plant. Last, but certainly not least, is the chart on culinary uses. While the charts might be a bit intimidating at first, the information is very clearly laid out, and I find having it all collectively summarized, very useful.

The majority of the book, stretching from page 74 to page 215, contains recipes. Now I will warn you, while it is certainly a vegetarian friendly book, it does contain recipes featuring meat, poultry, and fish. In further warning, while I personally love the recipes Dina features, they are not for beginners. For starters, there is an incredible range of recipes. The sections are as follows: Beverages, Relishes, Spreads, and Condiments, Fruit Coulis and Syrups, Wild Salads, Wild Grape Leaves, Soups, Sandwiches, The Wild Eggery, Potherbs: Cooked Wild Vegetables, Animal Kingdom Entrees, Desserts, and Basic Cookery. To make things even a bit more complicated, many of the recipes read almost more like suggestions, which to an experienced cook might be a breath of fresh air, but to the amateur or novice, might just be confusing. Now if you are an amateur or novice, and you still want to brave the recipes, I would suggest just taking one and following the “Master Recipe” and go from there. Once you start to break them down they are pretty straight forward. They just require a more creative and interpretive approach.

One thing that I personally appreciate is that the recipes include spirited drinks, such as “Wild Grape Agua Fresca with Bourbon” or “Lemon Balm Strawberry Vodka.” Having these makes it clear that this book is really aimed at an adult audience. Not that a responsible adult cannot take the information and educate their children to create a fun learning experience both inside, and outside the house, but it remains a book for the conscious and curious adult. To illustrate, please see the recipes below:

Early Summer Wild Salad

4 large handfuls mild-flavored plants: dayflower, musk mallow, and star chickweed

1/2 handful spicy-bitter plants: garlic mustard

1 handful sour plants: wood sorrel and sheep sorrel

1 very small palmful aromatic plant: wild bergamot leaves

6 tablespoons Salad Dressing

Sort through the plant material and remove any tough or withered bits. If needed, soak plants in cold water, then spin well to dry. Mince the wild bergamot leaves and tear the rest of the leaves into bite-sized pieces, as needed. Place in a bowl, toss thoroughly with dressing and let sit for 1-2 minutes, then serve. The salads, as you can see are some of the simplest in the book, and still it relies heavily on you, the reader and forager, to take advantage of what is in abundantly in season.

Overall, this is a highly informative, extremely well researched, and beautiful book. It does have a few limitations. Some of the featured plants may or may not be common in the location of the reader. And as I mentioned before, the recipes are highly variant, and may not be easily understood by a less experience cook. While I think there is a tremendous amount of information available within its pages, the book and author rely on the presumption that you, the reader, will either already be well informed, or be willing to take the time to become so. If you are willing to take on a little bit of a challenge, and embark on a foraging, feasting adventure, this might be just the book for you.