Registration Closes on May 14th – Beginning this May of 2016, I’ll be taking another group of students for a year-long training intensive program. This mentorship will be a deep culmination of the last 2 years trainings and represents a well-rounded practice of living “off-grid” and on your own ingenuity and skillset.
This will be the third year that I will be running a year-long mentorship to systematically teach each student to work in depth with diverse plant based skills that are essential for nomadic hunter gathering pathways. Each student, among getting to know the plants inside and out, will also progressively be brought to a state of camping “self-reliance” and have the ability to go anywhere and wildcraft food and medicine.
I have picked 4 awesome campground locations all in New Jersey which are all around 2 hours radius of central NJ. Scheduled Meeting Dates: Shelter – May 20-23 – Develop your own camp site, learn to camp and refine backpack gear, first aid kits, car packing, identify and forage edible and medicinal spring plants. Fire – July 8-10 – Once the gear and camp is easily set up, we will practice and discuss the intricacies of different firemaking aspects, including understanding firemaking techniques for different ecosystems and weather patterns, what can be harvested off of the landscape, and cooking and food preparation, This will be interspersed with plant walks, observation of growth patterns of differing plants and trees. Water – September 9-11 – Wild water harvesting, purification techniques, and ways to track landscapes for acquiring drinking water, mushroom identification and hunting aspects, and herbal medicine making and preserving aspects. Food and Medicine – November 11-13 – this is the time when camping becomes colder and gear becomes refined, learn to condition your body and dress appropriately, to keep and maintain fire, to prepare foods on fire, and to make medicinal preparations from the plants we have gathered throughout our adventure. There will likely be wildcrafted mead to celebrate a beautiful year together.
To learn more or to register, email Dan@Returntonature.us
Dan De Lion
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is surprisingly an incredible edible food.
You may even have it growing on your property, but may have not realized all of its virtues as a food and medicine. In this article I’ll be discussing some of the aspects of this special cactus, which is the only native cactus of the northeastern United States, and grows abundantly throughout the southwest.
You actually can consume the pads, flower pedals, and also fruits, but all of them, minus the flowers, need processing of some sort. There are a few techniques that should first be understood about this plant as a food source.
Prickly Pear as an Edible Food:
The pads of the prickly pear are known in Spanish as nopales, and I often find them in international cuisine market where they are fully cleaned and prepared for eating. In the wild, they are very delicious, but also are full of glochids, which are these little minute hairs, that need to be cleaned off. The glochids can get into the skin or lips, or even worse – on the tongue, and are almost impossible to get out. It is guaranteed that as you try to get them out of your skin, you will painfully discover more. The fruit also has many rock hard seeds which you have to spit out. Native people ground up the seeds using a mortar and pestle to consume them; they are edible once ground. The flower petals of the Prickly Pear make a great and delicate food, something quite substantial for a flower. They also have a slimy consistency and are typically filling.)
Medicinal and Nutritional Aspects:
The whole plant is mucilaginous, which is, just as the word “mucous” implies – a slimy substance. At first, one might be offset by that quality, however an herbalist learns to deeply value this asset, necessary to nourish the healthy gut flora, but is a textural sensation almost entirely missing from our modern diet. The lack of mucilage, in the American diet, may actually be linked to constipation and slow moving elimination, which of course leads to the bodies toxification. Mucilage is able to coat the digestive tract, and as its nature suggests, it is cooling and soothing. From a holistic perspective, that means that it would be incredibly helpful in the case of any burn, inflammation of any kind, or any hot cellular processes such as ulcers. This also means that if you understand its principle action, you can stretch your imagination to when the need arises.
Key aspects of healing: Applied topically, this entails soothing for sunburn, having made it a great medicinal plant for desert or coastal tribes.
Applied internally, this offers calming, cooling, soothing, and lubrication to the entire body processes.
Fire Roasted Nopales:
Probably the most efficient way of harvesting the pads in the wild is to use 2 sticks as a tong, or fashion a chop stick and cut a pad off at its base.. DO NOT lay your hands into one of these things! [It is not the visible thorns that will get you, it is the near-invisible glochids.] From there you can actually roast it on coals to burn off the glochids and cook the cactus pad. Once this is done, you can cut the outside skin off and eat the inside flesh, which is much better when softened by cooking than it is raw, although you can eat it raw if need.
The fruits, also known as tunas are delicious to eat raw, although they also require careful removal of the glochids, or a very careful skin-peeling process. In a primitive or survival situation, if you don’t have a fire or the ability to make one, this takes creative thinking – think sandpaper, whether that’s a rock, or your knife edge. I highly recommend fashioning yourself some crude forest chopsticks to handle these, or wear very thick gloves if you have them. The fruits as well are sometimes sold in the store with the glochids removed. But, nothing is like foraging your own wild food!
Heres a video to help you further discern edible prickly pear cactus:
Foraging for Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) – An Ancient Ally
The History of Horsetail:
Horsetail is a common road and streamside plant which is descended from huge, tree like plants that thrived 400 million years ago during the Paleozoic era. A close relative of the fern, horsetail is a nonflowering plant found throughout parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. The plant is a perennial (returns each year from the same root structure) with hollow stems and shoots that look like asparagus at first.
It also contains spores, which historically gives us the understanding of this plant coming onto the evolutionary scene after its ancestors; the mushrooms, which arespore bearing, and before pollen bearing plants such as pine, which also learned the art of symbiotization with wind. This is long before flowering plants, which developed seeds, likely in association with mammals coming onto the scene. This is a direct example of plants predictive capacity at its best.
Identification of Horsetail:
To properly identify horsetail, look for them in wet riparian and drainage areas along the banks of streams, or where water is known to pool up at some phase of the year. One must also understand that all Equisetum species have 2 forms of plants; fertile stems (light colored due to lack of chlorophyll) which appear earlier in the spring and are followed by sterile stems which are green.
The green, “sterile” plant is what we want for harvest which are abundant in the spring. Once properly identified, it is recommended that one take no more than 30 percent of what is found. This also is coupled with a warning that sometimes horsetail likes to live in drainage areas, which is great for finding and identifying, but not so great for the uptake of potential toxins such as heavy metals and PCBs. This is often similar though, to most conventional food in the grocery stores that modern Americans have become so used to buying without thinking.
The green stems of horsetail are diuretic and homeostatic and help to remineralize the body, especially in the case of other wasting conditions or malabsorption, which can be seen by a skilled practitioner in tongue, facial, eye, hair, and nail diagnosis. Medicinally, Horsetail is deeply rich in minerals, high in silica, and the best time to harvest is before the stems drop to a 90 degree angle to the stalk. After that phase, the plant gets very tough and is reported to cause issues in the kidneys.
Once properly identified and harvested from a wholesome area, then dried, and powdered in a coffee grinder, one can consume ½-1 tsp of horsetail powder as a daily tonic by adding a little hot water daily of to strengthen bones, nails, and hair. It has a cumulative effects and differences will be seen over a few weeks to a month.
There is some debate whether the chemical constituents (mainly silica) of horsetail are extracted in an alcohol tincture, and to get around this one could make what is known as an acetate tincture – a mixed tincture of alcohol and vinegar, usually 75/25, or 50/50.
One can also easily extract horsetail in apple cider vinegar by chopping finely or powdering the plant, then adding to vinegar, stirring every few days, and straining in 2 weeks to 2 months.
One potential concern with long-term use of horsetail according to Arthur Haines, horsetails contain thiaminase, an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 in the body and If used for long periods of time, it could lower body stores of this vitamin. This problem can be overcome by consuming more vitamin B1 when using this species and/or decocting for longer periods of time (thiaminase is a heat-sensitive compound).
Another way to get around this is take horsetail for 2-4 weeks on, and then 2-4 weeks off. As a forager and wildcrafter, these are natural cycles as we track the cycles of nature and receive different amounts of medicines each year from our known spots.
We are just a few weeks away until we start the spring Return To Nature teaching season with the Spring Foraging and Herbalism Retreat at Ananda Ashram in Monroe, NY. In it I’ll be covering plant identification, wildcrafting and cosmic significance of plant gathering, ritual, as well as meditation with plants to gain insight into their medicinal aspects.
Return to Nature is excited to be offering another magical year of seasonal herbal goods to our community through our Herbal CSA program. You can join by signing up for a full year of our seasonal hand-crafted herbal goods, beginning in April!
Each season, you’ll receive a care package including various organic and wildcrafted goods, including tea blends, salves, dark chocolate, elixirs, tinctures and much more for your everyday healing needs.
Our subscribers will also be added to our Facebook Group where we announce dates each package will be sent to you and post photos, videos with herbal tips, and descriptions of your lovely goods.
This year, we are incorporating exclusive deals for our subscribers on Return to Nature goods throughout the seasons, as well instructional videos, packages on classes and herbal consultations with Dan along with custom blended tinctures.
(Each option includes 4 seasonal packages sent throughout the year)
*Prices include $30 shipping for the entire year.
**Sign up before February 29th 2016 and receive $10 off the yearly subscription cost!
***Sign-ups end on March 25th 2016.
One of the major benefits of being part of a CSA is, each dollar spent becomes a vote toward the community itself choosing what thrives, and helps provide local business the funding it needs for supplies throughout the year.
Joining our yearly CSA is a great way to sample a variety of our goods throughout the seasons as well as become an active participant in our growing herbal community. We are eager to hear your questions, feedback or suggestions and look forward to creating and sharing the magic with you all!
Today, after seeking campsites and natural areas along the California coast, I found myself in the Malibu Lagoon. It was mesmerizing to see where all the birds come to do their rituals, hundreds of seagulls, and pelicans. I watched as the seagulls and pelicans bathed in the shallow waters. As I realized what was happening, I took out my binoculars and tracked one Seagull as it literally went one by one to several bathing stations, and an organized bathing system gently revealed itself. It was a task to keep focused on one seagull of so many, and as I contemplated the fiasco, I realized how important it is, biologically, for nature to mix up genes and offer a color mutation or variation which would enable someone to track and observe them. This would enable more people to see such a thing. If there was one black seagull, we could track its behavior and intent. Again a sign how the magic of diversity in nature can teach us so much, if we ask the right questions. One question, how do they collectively know to do such a thing?
As I studied and focused in on this one, I watched it go from a self-dunking station, where every bird was bobbing and undulating to get water all over themselves, to the wading area to pluck each damaged feather systematically in shallow water. It seemed like this little bit of water helped to get the feathers off their beak. They then would fly to the beach to preen and clean themselves, to shake and fluff their entire bodies. The whole ritual probably takes each seagull about an hour, and I was amazed that I never even considered that such a thing occurred. It reminded me of being in India where the scene on the Ganga is always occurring in the same, people bathe in droves in the same way. This is a kind of community cleansing, and within it there is an intelligent, sophisticated and organized ritual, which literally is self-known and self-broadcast throughout the species. This kind of field knowledge is profound to watch, and would never be seen without a careful and systematic attempt to ask the right questions. Where does this organized intention come from?
The pelicans do the same thing. They have their own rhythm and ritual, as they have evolved long beaks, something unique to them which is a biological innovation perhaps dating to millions of years ago. I watched astonished as a pelican cleaned its entire body with the back of its head and its beak, reaching every space around its body. Of course! It was a miraculous yoga to see it move and turn those million-year-old muscles that it evolved in its neck for the purpose.
Here’s a look at one of the most delicious and long forgotten wild fruits, indigenous to this area. This is the American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).
While Asian persimmon is commonly found in grocery stores, this wild American counterpart goes virtually ignored. This is largely because when unripe, the American persimmon is extremely astringent and will pucker your whole mouth like you just tried to eat sand paper, and I suspect many have tried and been shocked by their foraging experiment. This action is important to understand and is due to tannic acid (same as in acorns), which is profoundly helpful in cases where astringency is needed, but not so great in the mouth. However, with some understanding of plant cycles and chemistry, after the American persimmon ripens it is sweet like cotton candy. Once ripened they are much sweeter than the Asian persimmons, which can be eaten unripe with no tannic effect.
The primary issue with eating ripe american persimmons is that they must be soft and mushy, usually somewhat unpleasant looking to those who expect “grocery store perfection”. For them to go soft, they require usually a few weeks of cold conditions which “blets” them. One of the main ways I test if they are ready is that you can pop the top off, which is called the calyx.
This kind of tracking and watching plants turn edible requires awareness as well as skill harvesting and processing techniques, secrets once commonly known but now almost lost to a “corporate food system” mentality.
One of my favorite ways to eat persimmon is adding them to oatmeal and mashing them up. I will soak oats overnight and add a handful of these as an amazing and healthful sweetener. They are so sweet an delicious that even with plain oats alone it becomes delicious and no sugar is required. They are like a date replacement and can be eaten right off the tree, or added to any dish to sweeten them.
To find persimmon, look for them along hedgerows and old farmsteads. They are also easier to find in the fall when the leaves have dropped but a tremendous amount of persimmon are still holding on to the tree (shake carefully). Consider, that they are along hedgerows because back in the generation of when most of these trees were born, it was considered sane to plant fruit trees on ones property! Who would have thought?!
Praise the power of the persimmon!
Forage safely and responsibly,
You can also check out my youtube video entitled, “Foraging for Persimmon” here:
In it we discuss a range of topics from foraging and what got me into foraging, the practice and theory of herbalism, awakening to being a global culture, engaging the sacred in nature, creating local infrastructure for coming earth changes, and then Kira asked about all my upcoming projects including the plant mandala project and dream group, plus my yurt van Kickstarter plan! Looking forward to visit her wonderous family next time I head south.
We completed last Sunday’s plant walk with a pine powered plant mandala ritual in which we all worked the energy of the land, bringing in many of the sacred medicinal plants discussed during the plant walk, and harmonizing and balancing the energies with the directions.
All who were at the class were invited to begin the ritual with taking a handful of needles from the pine branches that had recently fallen, and to step deeply into their instincts and intuition as we all took 3 deep inhales. As the medicine set in, we also discussed doing limpiya with the pine bows, which is world wide healing technique to clean the energetic field with plants by rubbing them along the energetic field to wipe off psychic debris. And the pine also helped students remember the power of wreaths, of then we were able to connect that origins of wreath making were as a sacred and protective amulet for the house.
As they imbibed the medicine of pine and awakened their olfactory senses the feeling of transformation of our individual as well as group consciousness expanded as the energy shifted into a palpable sacred space. Inspired, some began to offer pine cleanings to each other quite naturally, as we joked about the real secret of “pinesol” and many naturally tickled each other’s faces with the soft pine and nurturing and intimacy was spontaneous. It was Incredible to see the space open up naturally as the medicine of pine entered them and worked through everyone in the ways it needed.
From there we first created a circle with the pine boughs and began to forage and find whatever called to each of us to add it within the circle. Once the larger group had added what they felt called, it was insightful to see the asymmetrical nature of what was made, and that it felt somewhat fragmented; this was a sign that the work had just begun, and was not yet complete. By taking the time to observe and sense it, this was a way of “reading” the unfamiliar territory of the group like an oracle; a map of our ability to work together as one.
In this way, we were able to watch the capacity for the medicine circle and ritual develop in a completely new vision.
Once all had contributed what they felt into the sacred circle we sat there observing and feeling it, I began to continue to work with sensing the mandala and adjusted the 4 sticks to align with the directions so that we could feel the shift, and asked how it may have shifted anyone. This enabled the subtle perceptual shifts of creating balance to be felt tangibly by all, and it invited everyone to continue to read, perceive, and work the circle into harmony, to sense, and to deepen coming into harmony as a community.
From there, others felt inspired to continue to play. Emily and Alicia helped to continue to work the symmetry, Emily kneeling and putting such deep care into it felt like she was nurturing the mandala like a mother bird making a bird’s nest for her earth children to come and gather. Then Nick offered a bundle of feathers, poke berries, and goldenrod, all tied in a bouquet, of which we put in the center as the offering, and placed 2 sacred shells that he collected from the shore which are sacred wampum shells to the native people of this land. In these 2 offering shells, I saw the balance of masculine and feminine; the alchemical wedding; the balance of yin and yang, shiva and shakti. I then proceeded to enliven the mandala with offering waters inside the shells as a feeding of the land and ancestors spirits, to nourish and invite them to come alive by these waters.
Christine added a drop of rose water into the shells, and we also ingested some as prasad of the sweetness of our offering. We did the magic works including all who were there and sealed and completed it as we circled around with a group OM chant.
At this time I envisioned and internally invoked the pillar up into the heavens to make the portal to once again invite our ancestors to the land to work and heal it, and so that we may again receive their guidance as all held space.
Thankful to all who came and shared, and contributed your love and magic to the circle.
This is sacred, this is medicine, this is community. The land is awakened by our acts.