Creating A Living Winter Food Tree For The Animals

When our younger boys were preschool age, they attended a forest school, that was all outdoors. The first year we decorated the forest and made living winter food trees for the birds and squirrels that call the area home year-round. It’s a really fun project for the long Thanksgiving weekend, when the children are bored by Friday.

Evergreen trees show the treats well (the color popping against the deep green), however empty deciduous trees also work well. And if you live in a rainy area, consider decorating a covered porch as well. The animals will still visit, and your home will be beautifully decorated for the Winter Solstice (or Christmas).

A popular one was orange slices:

While we hung fresh cut ones, as we had a covered area, dehydrating them first makes it a lot less messy. And less likely the children eat all the supplies (hah).

Dried oranges are incredibly easy to prep, and can be done with lower quality fruit, than if you were eating the citrus fresh. I buy 3 pound bags of navel oranges at our local discount shop (Grocery Outlet), and wash them oranges well, then dry off. Trim the ends, slice and separate.

You have two choices, one is more gentle, the other is faster – a great option if you decide in the morning to wildcraft.

Dry on a dehydrator, at 135 to 155°, till dry. This may take 12 to 24 hours, depending on temperature in machine, in the house and the home’s humidity.

Heat your oven to 200°. Lay out the orange slices on cooling racks, over baking sheets. It will take about 2 to 3 hours till dry.

You can use grapefruit, lemons, limes, whatever you have on hand.

For hanging the dried slices, use a plastic or metal blunt end needle (for knitting). Hemp twine works well, or any similar biodegradable gardening twine. Avoid using fishing line as it is plastic, and can harm animals. Once strung as you like (you can make knots between each slice to keep from sliding), hang or drape as you like.

Cranberry garland:

If you missed this classic in school, I say it’s never too late to do it! One bag of fresh cranberries (which like the oranges need not be the best in shape, so if it’s marked down, grab it). Using a thinner needle (metal works better here), thread the needle with twine. If the twine is thin you will want to make a loop and knot. If thick, just knot one end. Simple sewing here. Thread on the cranberries, length-wise. You can knot between if they are slipping at all. Wind the garland around trees or bushes as desired.

Popcorn:

I only suggest popcorn if your winter is on the arid side. I don’t do it here, as it rains too much. Air pop organic popcorn, and use a sewing needle with a double section of cotton thread (knotted). Once a section is done, arrange on trees.

Finishing The Intermediate Herbal Course by Herbal Academy

This past week I finished and got my certificate in the Intermediate Herbal Course from Herbal Academy. Finishing it meant I had completed the Family Herbalist Path.

Online Intermediate Herbal Course

It was a long course, and taking it over the spring and summer months didn’t help it go fast. I worked on it at night, when I had chances, and farming wasn’t overwhelming me. Fall gave me a lot more free time with the children back in school (and no farm chores to eat up my days!). This isn’t a light reading class, and I’d say it really pushed me mentally. It was hard. When I was young, and in school, I wasn’t a very good student. My mind tended to wander. Honestly, I’d say it was because the studies didn’t hold me. Education I want to learn at, I do well with.

I took the Introductory Herbal Course in the start of the year, to see how I liked it.

Online Introductory Herbal Course

The course stuck a harmony in me, and left me wanting to take more. I learned more how my body works, than I had thought I might know in my life. It also opened up my eyes to why our youngest son’s body works the way it is, and ways I can help him with his issues. If anything, I took the schooling to learn ways to help the family.

I am continuing to learn, and am taking the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course currently. Stress is always something I can work in, with 3 children and a farm to run. It’s a short course, and a great way to see if one likes Herbal Academy’s methods and presentation.

Enroll in the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course

After that? I don’t know yet, but I am leaning towards finishing my courses and taking the third course in the entrepreneur path. It would complement my work in handcrafted body products, one of the main reasons I started my herbalist training.

Online Entrepreneur Herbal Course

The learning has been amazing though. I have gained more confidence in what herbs to choose, and how to use them and when. If anything, I make amazing herbal teas now.

During the summer, when I was having studying burnout, I took the short course, Herbal Materia Medica, and picked up the paper journal to go with it. It gave me time to force myself to sit down outside and study the herb plants our farm. My drawing might have a long way before I’d show it to anyone, but well, at least I am trying!

Enroll in the Materia Medica Course!

Each course they offer comes with PDF printouts, which I print and put in binders for future research. The many recipes shared in the courses I have in their own binder. From teas, tinctures, salves, and even food/drink recipes, I have so many I have been using.

Someday, I will have a working apocathary area on our farm for our use, where I can store my course binders and books for easy use. It’s a life goal. I’d love to have a small shop where my products are featured, with a work area for me, for doing research. A girl can dream.

But for now, back to my studies.

Building an Herb Pantry

Over the years, every summer and early fall I always harvest both herbs I grow, and local ones I can sustainably harvest (for example Nettles), and I dry them to preserve for use all year, to build a herb pantry. For example, I always stock up on Thyme, Rosemary, Sage and so on. Nothing from a store competes with home-grown dried herbs in the middle of January! They are light in texture, fresh and you know exactly what was used to raise them (in most cases nothing more than water and sunshine). To dry? Cut in the morning, and stash the cut herbs in new paper lunch bags, in a cool/dry area. The herbs will air dry, preserving the oils. Once dry, pull of the stems, and place in glass mason jars, marked. You can use a food dehydrator as well, however, use the coolest setting. You want to avoid cooking the delicate oils.

However, as I started studying herbalism, I found I needed more herbs so I could make medicinal teas and tinctures. This led to more plants being grown, especially for lesser common things like marshmallow and feverfew. This summer I started building a herb pantry for medicinal use (that is separate from our eating herbs, though I do use them as well in my medicinal work), that I keep in an easy to access, yet cool/dark/dry area, so I can work easily.

However, if you don’t or can’t grow them yourself, it is easy to source. My suggestions are to buy from Frontier Co-op (their products are used in many herb bulk bins in stores, always well-marked) or Mt. Rose Herbs, both of which are highly regarded. Only buy from sources that are trusted however. Avoid herbs and spices from discount stores, and in bulk bins where no brand is marked. You have no idea what was used on them, or if it is even the actual product. (Frontier sells in large quantities, Mt. Rose sells in smaller amounts)

Culinary herbs such as:

  • Basil
  • Bay Leaf
  • Cilantro
  • Dill seed, Dill Weed
  • Ginger
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Medicinal herbs & flowers:

  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion Root
  • Hibiscus Flowers
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marshmallow Root
  • Patchouli
  • Peppermint
  • Red Raspberry Leaves
  • Rose Flowers
  • Strawberry Leaves

There of course is so much more out there, including spices, and even more flowers and roots. Buy what you need, no more than an ounce or so at a time, unless you have a project in mind, and try to use up within a few months if you can, but make it a policy that once a year you clean out any unused herbs and spices, and send them to the compost pile.

For best results, don’t crush any larger leaves until time to use (such as red raspberry, or sage). Crumble, or finely pound, as needed. This keeps the essential oils fresher, for longer.

For best storage, invest in various glass mason jars, and seal tightly. Store out of direct light.

Dandelion Muffins

Wildcrafting and foraging are an addicting hobby, and if you want to start your hand at it, picking Dandelion flowers is very easy. They are simple to identify, and so easy to source (and no worries about picking too many either!) Dandelion Muffins are a tasty way to enjoy them, and to get others to try flowers for the first time.

Dandelion Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1½ cups granulated sugar (or coconut sugar)
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups fruit or veggies, used diced rhubarb; zucchini/apple/blackberry are also great
1 cup dandelion petals*

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two 8×4 inch pans or line muffin tins (makes about 19 muffins).

Mix dry ingredients, flours through cinnamon.

Blend wet ingredients, egg replacer through vanilla.

Add dry to wet, and beat well.

Mix in fruit/veggies/petals gently.

Bake muffins 20-25 minutes or until toothpick is clean. 8×4 inch pans take about 40-60 minutes.

Cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes.

*Pick dandelions in the morning, pluck petals removing the greens, and soak in a light salt water to clean, drain. Only use flowers from safe lawns or fields, where no pesticides, herbicides or cars nearby.

Wildcrafting Douglas Fir Essential Oil

Years ago, when I found my love of hiking and the outdoors, it opened up my eyes to the plants and trees around me. But, overall while I could identify wildflowers and native trees, I knew nothing about why they might be valuable to use in other ways. Starting our homestead has led me to wanting to know more. More about the native plants, and also how to use them in beneficial ways. But I know that for me, wildcrafting is an amazing way – only take what I need, and do no harm to the plants.

I am taking the Intermediate Herbal Course currently from Herbal Academy, and my wildcrafting has become stronger as I work on my Herbalist education.

Online Intermediate Herbal Course

And if there is a tree, an evergreen, that makes one think of the Pacific Northwest, the mighty Coast Douglas Fir comes to mind. It grows along the coast, from BC, Canada to into California, and runs all the way up to subalpine in the Cascade mountains, on the Western side of the mountains. If you have ever looked down at the vast forests of green trees here, you are looking often at them. They are long-lived and can tower up to 300 feet tall. It is considered the second-tallest conifer in the world, Redwood is the tallest. The Coast Salish name was lá:yelhp. The tree itself is not an actual Fir tree, but is an evergreen, as Firs are as well.

The best way to identify this tree? Their unusual pinecones. Maybe you have heard the tale of the tree that protected the mice from the mighty forest fire? Do you see the tiny mice feet and tails hanging out of the cones?

And in my back yard, I pick up thousands of these pinecones every winter. The winter storms shake them loose and they rain down. I chuck them back over to the county line – since the trees live on their side. Hah. The only time I get really nervous is when we have winds over 50 mph. I tend to stay in the front of the house those days!

However, there is plenty to do with parts of the these ancient trees. Branches are plentiful in winter through spring, to collect. Find fresh ones (or trim a few carefully), then strip the needles off, rubbing backwards (like stripping thyme leaves). It works best if you do this over a piece of fabric or a sheet. You will need about 2½ cups needles.

Coastal Douglas Fir Essential Oil

Ingredients:

  • 2½ cups foraged Coastal Douglas Fir needles
  • ½ cup fractionated coconut oil
  • Pint mason jar, cleaned and dry
  • 2-ounce colored glass bottle. Cleaned and dry

Directions:

Fill a large washing basin with warm water and tiny bit of natural dishwashing soap. Add in needles and soak, stirring to circulate. Drain carefully, rinse with warm water. Shake off the water, then lay out to dry on new paper towels. Make sure the needles are fully dry, overnight is best.

Add the dried needles to the mason jar, pressing in with a wooden spoon, so they all fit. Pour the oil over slowly. Put on the lid and band, seal tightly. Shake well and set aside.

For seven days store the jar in your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. Once a day, shake or turn over the jar to let the oil flow through.

Transfer the jar to a cool, dry and dark area, let ferment for 14 more days. Do not shake or move.

Using a fine mesh strainer, placed over a large glass measuring cup, pour in the needles and oil, scraping the jar out with a small spatula. Let drain, gently pressing and stirring the needles, until all the oil has come out. Discard needles into compost.

Transfer the oil into a colored glass bottle and cap. Label. Store in a cool, dry and dark environment for up to 12 months.

FOR USE ONLY EXTERNALLY. KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN AND PETS.

Disclaimer:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These recipes are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. They are not medical advice. This recipe contains essential oils. If any of the products cause skin irritation, discontinue use immediately. Do not ingest! If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using these recipes.