At Home in Nature

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Thistles for plate and medicine cabinet - Thistle Soup

The thistle is an ancient Celtic symbol of nobility of character as well as of birth, for the wounding or provocation of a thistle yields punishment. For this reason the thistle is the symbol of the Order of the Thistle, a high chivalric order of Scotland - though another story to explain this is that a bare foot Viking attacker stepped on one at night and cried out, so alerting the defenders of a Scottish castle.  The thistle is not of great repute elsewhere, however: Shakespeare classes "rough Thistles" with 'hateful Docks" and, in the Bible, thistles are one of the afflictions Adam and Eve are cursed by when they are cast out from Eden.  It is a noxious weed in many nations, and penalties fall on landowners who do not eradicate them, and governments eradicate thistle from the roadsides. 

It is very medicinal.  Milk Thistle was used to strengthen the liver the world over, and in modern times has been shown in scientific tests to be effective for many health concerns.  The active chemical in thistle seems to be silymarin, but the exact way that silymarin works in the body is only beginning to be understood, however, it seems to take the place of many of the enzymes and other chemicals produced by the liver, thus relieving its burden somewhat as it detoxifies the body, allowing the body's energy to be distributed elsewhere.  Holy thistle is mentioned in all the treatises on the Plague, and especially by Thomas Brasbridge, who in 1578 published his Poore Man's Jewell, that is to say, a Treatise of the Pestilence. The distilled leaves, he says "helpeth the hart...expelleth all poyson taken in at the mouth and other corruption that doth hurt and annoye the hart...the juice of it is outwardly applied to the bodie...therefore I counsell all that have Gardens to nourish it, that they may have it always to their own use, and the use of their neighbours that lacke it."  Culpepper declared that a decoction of thistle in wine "being drank expels superfluous melancholy out of the body and makes a man as merry as a cricket."  The Emperor Charlemagne, when his Army was afflicted by a great disease that killed thousands of his men, prayed earnestly to God, and in his sleep there appeared to him an angel who shot an arrow from a crossbow, telling him to mark the plant upon which it fell, for with that plant (a thistle) he might cure his army of the pestilence. 

Fiddlehead Fern and Thistle Soup

Recipe modified from Mignonne.

Serves 4


4 cups fiddleheads, fresh and cleaned

2 cups thistle leaves, stems, or flower stalks

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, minced

2 cups soup stock

2 cups milk or cream

Lime zest

Salt and pepper to taste



Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the fiddleheads and thistles, return to a boil and cook until they are almost tender and turn pale green, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Coarsely chop and reserve. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fiddleheads, thistles and soup stock. Stir, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and cook until the fiddleheads and thistles are thoroughly tender, about 5 minutes. Add the milk, reduce the heat to medium, and heat until nearly boiling. Do not let the soup boil or the milk will curdle. Stir in the lime zest and season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the soup into four bowls, garnish with nutmeg and serve immediately.



How best to enjoy wild foods

One of the best ways to appreciate the changing of the seasons is to get a CSA membership and, as the parade of flavors passes by your plate, even a casual observer can take notice that nature provides exactly what we're hungry for when we're hungry for it.

Foods rich in protein, vitamins and minerals in the spring, cool juicy treats in the summer and fatty and starchy foods in the autumn.  Winter's austere love can be found any time of year (winter foods are hardly seasonal, whether it is the preserved berries or the delicious tree barks), but (isn't it funny?) we only notice it when we need it most.

Yet it is far better to watch the new pine needles, soft and tender, emerge from their paper tents and grow hardened as they mature; to see how Winter's austere love warms into Spring's soft hopes.  To taste summer is far different from witnessing the daughter of Winter maturing into Summer, to see her hopes fruit in the birth of her son autumn.  To rest yourself at the banquet with your fellow creatures surrounding you, to join in the happy songs of the birds and the insects as they give thanks for another year's bounty is easier when you are out of doors.

To camp outdoors! 

One of the first things we advise to our customers (whether they subscribe or buy just a single box) who want to know how to best enjoy the food we bring them is to camp outdoors.  Whether it is on your balcony or in your backyard, find yourself at home in nature!  Men, women and children are not meant to lock themselves away from the world inside castles of stone or stockades of wood.  Let down your defenses and you will find what good friends you have waiting outside!

Then, bring your kitchen outdoors, too.  Your barbeque, your campstove, a small fire pit - this is how food (wild or domestic) is meant to be prepared.  Under the stars, sun and clouds food cooks better and tastes better.  Whether you are cooking your pinole or your pasta, your fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, teas, nuts... when you hear the breeze in the trees above you or the coyote in the distance, the meadowlark and robin encourage you to sing along while you cook.  And everyone knows that singing makes food taste better.

Then, laying in your tent or in your sleeping bag in the open, the gentle sounds of the night singing stories of the primordial childhood of your noble species, stories about your fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, cousins distantly related across distant seas, you remember the sea, you remember the mountains, you remember your home and look about you - you really will! - and see you are still there.

No matter how chaotic life becomes, the constancy of nature's love reminds us we are at home, the joy in the company of our fellow creatures reminds us we are at home.  No longer prisoners in our castles and stockades, we work harder at school and our places of business because our bodies are filled by good food and our hearts are filled by good hope - the hope that never disappoints. 

If you keep an animal in an environment that it is alien to, if you cage it or take it away from its natural environment, it will have stress.  A camping lifestyle is for everyone.  Whether you like a yurt, an outfitter's tent, a backpacker's tent, a tipi or just to sleep out under the stars, there is a place in your heart that needs the campfire and evening song, that will not be satisfied by television or electric stovetop burners, but thirsts for the cool, clear draughts that has satisfied humanity for ages.  Can't you feel it?

Don't ignore it.  Beneath it, there is a place in your gut that hungers for wild foods and will accept nothing else.  Feed your hunger, slake your thirst!  Give some of our wild foods a FREE try today!

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