Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pastured Beef Benefits

If you’ve been reading our site for awhile, you’ll know we’re all about whole, healthy foods. That’s why, when we stumbled across this free download, we were really excited to share it with our readers:

What Do Food Labels Really Mean?

Clicking that link will take you to a terrific article about animal welfare food labels, such as “Grassfed,” “Free-Range,” and “Cage-Free.” Some people might be astonished to learn how “cage-free” chickens really live:

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Edible Weeds

oxalis - an edible wild plantIf you have ever taken a wilderness survival or wild edibles course, no doubt your eyes have already been opened as to the plethora of freely available, wild edibles right at your feet – often, right in your own yard!

In addition to being incredibly frugal, eating wild plants is healthy, sustainable, and finding them can be a lot of fun, harking back to our hunter-gatherer roots. As with all things in the wild, we have to be certain we have the requisite knowledge to safely partake in this activity, however.

How do I know if a wild plant is safe to eat?

Remember, some plants are poisonous – even deadly in small amounts. We have to be careful of what we eat when its identity is uncertain. Some safe plants have close relatives which look nearly identical to the untrained eye, but are toxic to humans. For this reason, we need to be pretty darned sure we’re eating what we think we’re eating!

Too, some “safe” plants are only safe when cooked, or only have certain parts which are safe, while other parts of the same plant may be toxic. It’s always a good idea to do research before embarking upon a wild edible plant gathering trip.

Here’s how to verify the identity of your plant:

ingham county logo1.) Unless you are absolutely certain you have successfully identified a given plant, you should bring in some additional help. Nearly every county in the U.S. has an Extension Office. What’s an Extension Office? It’s a source of (often free) advice, troubleshooting, and plant identification, among many other things. In our county, it is an extension of Michigan State University, which is widely known for its agricultural expertise.

These offices are generally grant-based, and are staffed with people who really want to help others. I call ours often! They will be happy to help you identify a given plant, and there are some things you can do to help them help you: 1.)Bring in the entire plant, including any flowers, berries, roots, and foliage. If that’s not possible, many offices will attempt to identify a plant from a clear photograph or small sample. 2.) Make notes about its habitat, including sun/shade, soil conditions, and the other plants you see around it.

2.) If visiting an Extension Office is not possible, there are a wide variety of field guides available to help you identify your mystery plant. We recommend the following:

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides) [Paperback] – A timeless classic from the master field guide, Roger Tory Peterson.

 

Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants [Paperback] – This comprehensive book covers not only identification and collection, but also preparation of the plants

 

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate (The Wild Food Adventure Series, Book 1) [Paperback] – An excellent resource from a renowned wild edibles expert, also covering everything from identification to preparation.

 

3.) Use our friend, The Googles. Searching for “Wild edible plants” yields a veritable plethora of information, including photos, videos, recipes, and more. As always, when taking advice from The Internet at Large, use good judgment – only take advice from credible resources. I prefer using college and university websites, or established scientists and researchers in the field, with a few ad hoc experts thrown in for good measure.

Finally, when in doubt, don’t eat it!

If you cannot establish the identity of your mystery plant, be safe rather than sorry. If you can preserve the plant for future identification, awesome. If not, take a photo or sketch if possible. Those berries may look delicious, but are they worth a horrible bout of diarrhea, or worse?

If you’re in the wilderness and your survival literally depends upon finding wild edibles, you can always perform the very meticulous and very time-intensive Universal Edibility Test.

mayapple - an edible wild plant

Which plants have you eaten personally, and where are they found?

It’s been many years since I’ve taken any wilderness survival courses, so these days, I stick to the most basic stuff. However, back in the day, these found their way onto my plate:

Paul Wheaton (renowned creator of Permies.com) has several videos online covering the preparation and eating of stinging nettles.

dandelion - an edible wild plantMost of these are easily identifiable, and are abundant in Michigan; in fact, they are plentiful right in our own yard. Last year, I pitched more weeds than I ate, but this year I’m determined to do better. We have heaping tons of lamb’s quarters in our garden – why not make it into a salad green? We have a preponderance of dandelions in the yard, and last year I made salads and a sweet syrup from them – this year, I plan to do the same. Sadly, we don’t have much clover, but after it feeds the bees, it will feed us, too.

The photo below is the atrocious state of weeds in our garden last summer – things were out of hand. Thinking about how I either threw them onto the compost pile or just let them go is disheartening right now, but last year was truly horrible for gardening, and I largely gave up midway through for a variety of reasons. A lot of what you’re seeing below are sorrels and lamb’s quarters – totally edible!

a garden overgrown with edible weeds

Legalities of harvesting wild plants

Some wild plants are protected under the law – this means you cannot legally harvest them for food or for any other purpose. This link lists endangered plants in Michigan, and here’s a handy tool to search your area within the United States. Additionally, harvesting on public lands is often prohibited by local or state ordinance, so check all appropriate rules before you have a conversation with a Department of Natural Resources officer who catches you in the act.  “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” is excellent advice when visiting public lands – don’t be a jerk!

If harvesting on private property, be sure you have the permission of the landowner; otherwise, you’re trespassing, and could be in violation of other laws, as well. If you’re harvesting common weeds, check with your friends and neighbors to see if they would allow you to harvest their weeds, thus saving them some work! Be sure to ask whether they have been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer before you consume them.

Wild Medicinals

We’ll have a post in the future about using wild plants as medicinals/remedies, with expertise from a guest poster. There’s a whole medicine cabinet, likely right outside your window.

Mushrooms

chanterelle mushroomsHunting mushrooms is a science unto itself, and requires even more expertise than simply finding edible weeds. Some mushrooms are absolutely deadly, and have lookalike edible kin. I can’t offer any advice on mushrooming myself, but there are many resources out there; I recommend taking an in-person class which includes field trips. An important part of mushrooming is paying attention to habitat, and noticing subtle visual cues between species. Having an expert walk you through personally is invaluable. Right now, the only mushrooms I know I can identify are morels and chanterelles.

 Wrapping it all up

Wild edible plants are a free source of culinary delight and great nutrition, provided we research our species carefully, prepare them properly (if required,) and harvest them legally and sustainably.

I’d love to hear your tales of using wild edibles, from common back yard weeds to elegant and hard-to-find mushrooms – do tell!

Post photos of your compost pile!

As spring arrives, some of us become obsessed with Gardening Plans.

Successful gardening’s foundation is good soil – soil teeming with nutrients, microbial life, worms, moisture, minerals, decaying organic matter, you name it! Having a compost pile helps us maintain our nutrient-rich soil with a minimum of expense; we’re using our food scraps to create it, after all.

a grass compost pileHere on our little homestead, we have three compost piles currently; one way in the back for things like lawn clippings (our mower sadly does not mulch, which is a huge bummer;) one next to the garden for garden waste; and one up by the house for kitchen and household waste.

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Mondays With Millie: Kitchen Beginnings

Goulash

For the past several weeks we’ve been talking about how to Transition to Real Food in 8 Easy Steps.  We’ve talked about ditching cold cereal and what to have instead. We’ve talked about changing our fats from man-made fats to traditional fats.  Last week we learned several methods to make broth, which is my #1 kitchen staple.

This week we are going to take it a step further and discuss the importance of learning to cook.  You may already be very proficient in the kitchen and this post won’t apply to you.  For myself, when I first started on this real food journey I had taken several years off from cooking. Yep, pretty much completely off.  I had take a job that had me out of the house more than I was in it.  During those 6 or 7 years our food was mainly dine out, take out and frozen.

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Some free graphical goodies from your friendly Black Chicken Host

Hand drawn social media icons by Stephen NaumanWe’ve been working on creating a library of custom graphical elements you won’t find anywhere else for you to use on your HH powered sites. Stephen Nauman has just turned in this set of social media icons, and I decided to release them straight to you to see what you think.

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The 3 most important elements of your site’s SEO:

Content, content, and content.

This is what came up when I searched SEO Expert in Google. If this man comes to your door, do NOT buy SEO services from him. Or anything else. In fact, don't let him in the door at all.Hey everyone, Chris the web guy here. There’s a lot to consider when you’re putting together your site’s marketing strategy, and you’re going to hear (and probably have heard) a bajillion tips already. Good. Listen to them, digest them, and when it comes to the best practice stuff like proper markup, make sure you follow them. However, none of that is going to do you a bit of good if your content is poorly written or stale. In fact, it may just hurt you: Google has recently announced an “Over Optimization Penalty” for folks who focus more on SEO than giving users what they’re searching for.

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Monday’s with Millie: The #1 Food That Should be in Your Kitchen

The last few weeks we’ve been talking in detail about how to Transition to Real Food in 8 Easy Steps.  Today I’m going to share with you the #1 Item that Should be in Your Kitchen.  Before I go into that, want to take a minute to focus on the WHY of switching to a real foods diet.

The Standard American Diet, the way most people eat is all most of us know. It is most likely the way we grew up eating. It is comfortable, it is convenient, and it is somewhat easy. Unfortunately, it is making or keeping us sick.

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Analytics Boot Camp Day 5, Part 2: Advertising & AdWords

Ahoy, Attendees!

This installment of our Google Analytics (GA) Boot Camp is going to touch briefly upon the Advertising section of Standard Reporting. We find it beneath the Audience section, which we just wrapped up in our last Camp.

Since most of our Black Chicken Host customers are bloggers and not eCommerce sites, we’re not going to spend an inordinate amount of time on this today. Rather, we’ll familiarize you with the terms, provide you with links to helpful documentation, and then move along to Part Three of today’s Camp which will cover our old friend, Traffic Sources.

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Analytics Boot Camp Day 5: Visitors Flow

Hello, Campees!

Today we’re going to show you our second-favorite Analytics area, Visitors Flow. This informative screen only falls behind Real-Time track in terms of nifty-ness in our view. Erin is partial to the image to the left, because it reminds her of nerves coming out of a human spinal column (she is a little bit of an anatomy geek.)

To help us set up our Boot Camp today, let’s see what Google says: “Visitors Flow is a graphical representation of the paths visitors took through your site, from the source, through the various pages, and where along their paths they exited your site.” Neat!

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Analytics Boot Camp, Day 4,Part 3: Bells & Whistles & Graphs

Now is as good a time as any to point out some of the bells and whistles of select reports pages. Not all of these options are available on every report, but we’ll show you where to look.

Timeframe

In the top right corner of most line graphs, we set the timeframe for the information:

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