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I did not expect to be writing a blog post today. I had so much fun making incense two times time this week that I thought I would share. This is not a kyphi (although that fascinates me.) Nor is this self burning with saltpeter or makkho powder. I’ve never used those substances.
I have had a bag of pine resin for a few years now. Resin that was easy to find at the base of various piñon trees that grew stately on the land where I lived for 4 years before moving further south in New Mexico.
(I never take resin off of a tree itself because it is there to protect a wound on the tree. Enough drops to the ground or can be easily found that way.)
Being at lower altitudes now, I happily exclaim every time I see a piñon tree or juniper tree. When I hike into the jagged mountains close to where I live I start to see these old friends again at 6,000 feet or so.
On a recent hike I saw some junipers at an historic site of a crumbling stone hotel. It featured 32 rooms at one time, local gardens for the meals, a grand piano, much enjoyment and muslin covered ceilings. Now it was a wonderful sight to experience as we took a bend in the trail above an occasional, welcome spring, called Dripping Springs.
Here is a beautiful juniper at the top of old stone steps.
And, following are pictures of piñon trees. (Pine trees)
I wrote a whole blog on piñon trees and pine resin and making pine resin salve known in New Mexico as Trementina.
Here is that post for more info on pine:
It is likely that the pine resin I used to make incense today is from those days. I will explain how I made incense with it and, how easy and fun it is to do.
Here is a close-up and a picture of a piñon pine. Two needle pine. Two needles per bunch. And, I saw some good years of pinecones developing piñon (pine) nuts.
(Above: pine resin and melting snow)
And, you can just burn the resin as incense. I really enjoy it just like that. On charcoal or burned embers from a small fire.
I used a rock from the land as a heat proof surface.
This is from some years ago. I have been wanting to learn how to make a different form of incense for a while now so this is what I did.
I used a mortar and pestle to grind the pine resin. I have been holding onto that mortar and pestle for the right inspiration and now I found one for grinding resin.
You could probably use a river rock and a sturdy metal or wooden bowl. Or a grinder devoted to resins. Even my mortar and pestle is devoted to resins now. Which feels good to use as a friend gave it to me and I have such a good use for it now.
I used pine resin as my base in my first batch and I literally added dozens of ingredients. Almost, just to invoke a special connection to all the herbs in the incense. To make a special blend and, also just to see what would happen when I dove in and gave incense making a try!
I added many herbs including: calamus root for focus, envisioning. Wood betony for grounding and soothing. Orange peel for it’s aromatics, soloman’s seal root for repair and flexibility, cat’s claw (the herb) acorn shell from the mountain spring, …too much to remember… though I did write down a list. 🌸
So all these herbs were ground into a powder or fibrous powder. The other many herbs I made a tea, strained it and used that tea along with marshmallow root powder to bind the mixture.
The mix was roughly:
1/4 resin powder, 1/2 + other powdered herbs, and less than 1/4 amount of marsmallow root powder to bind… Or so…. Not exact.
Just make a dough that binds and holds together. Add a touch more water if needed, a few drops at a time if necessary.
This first batch I added an herbal tea to mix all the powdered herbs to make an incense dough.
It was just enough wetness to keep it all together though not too wet. Just enough to use a fork or spoon and keep pressing it together, incorporating the dry into moistened dough to bring it into form.
I have been having these experiences lately using different flours and now incense doughs that bring me into a more ancient feeling. A comfortable feeling. Something very satisfying for me to be working with plant doughs this way. Never mind that it is just fun and children naturally have a sense of wonder and play making dough! In some places and traditions these practices of making incense and aromatic healings are centuries old practices and alive and well! Nevermind all the plant and herb crafters out there. Aromatics is part of all cultures. There are gaps in some cultures but the threads are still there.
It was fun to use the pine resin I had gathered and to respect it that way by doing something constructive and enjoyable with it.
And, Fun being constructive to the spirit! I felt like I was rolling and forming little dough beings. All lined in circles on my antique floral, gold embossed plate from the Salvation Army thrift store.
Next I will discuss the second batch I just made today. This one I used holiday spices such as clove, nutmeg, coriander, mace, cinnamon, myrrh and piñon resin. I used marshmallow as a binder with tap water to bind.
It smelled wonderful and with each batch I tasted a tiny dough ball because they are both technically edible although I wouldn’t eat them, of course? 🙂 Although, some could be made as dried tablets or incense, if you think about it… This is the beauty of making your own incense or anything else for that matter! You know what is in it!
I read a few sites to get ideas how to make these cones. They are not perfect cones as I do not have that kind of patience or even skill lol! But, I have the patience to finish what I start, at least.
This was the same recipe as before, not strictly measured. I will include a link with other recipes for you.
The 2nd batch of incense:
1/4 resin powder (myrrh and pine resin)
2/4 + herbal powders (any amount each that you want, these or your own blend.) I used soloman’s seal root powder because it is a root and for flexibility (of spirit) too, clove, nutmeg, mace, coriander, cinnamon A lot of aromatic herbs in this mix besides the aromatic resins.
1/4 or less amount of marshmallow root powder to bind the mixture
Tap water or distilled water
A holiday-ish blend… Plus fun to work with these spices this way. And, did I mention the pleasant experience of all those aromatics, yes! 💜 Plus, keep on healing the household. I burned the incense just to get those healing aromatics in the air. Glad that last week’s batch was ready.
It seems I put cinnamon into everything 🙂 I always have some on hand. And, it smells so good too! All these herbs have traditional and magical/healing uses but, we can also just use what we like and have an affinity toward. Also, for herbal properties such as relaxation, focus, etc.
You just want the marshmallow as a binder because it acts gummy when mixed with water. (Plus marshmallow is soothing, healing, softening, cooling: good energetics!)
Other binders could be used such as gum Arabic but, it is marshmallow root powder that I had on hand and I enjoy working with marshmallow root, anyhow.
Use just enough water to keep pressing the powder together to make a paste. More on the dry than wet side. Just wet enough to hold together.
You can also knead the dough, at this point, to incorporate any of the loose powder or powder on the surface of your incense dough ball.
Then pinch of pieces and form them into small tapered cones and let air dry 5-7 days or so.
The cones have to be totally dry to burn. I have gotten some to self burn with just a match but, I usually place them on a charcoal tablet that ignites when lit.
Here are some pics from today.
Myrrh and pine resin ground into coarse powder.
Thankful for the aromatics since my household is recovering from the flu and colds! Pine resin and myrrh resin powders just ground…
Then the mix of all the powders including the marshmallow root powder.
Here is the incense dough just formed. It is just one step from being tooo crumbly. And, my little dough beings as I call them.
The little set up, with our sweet potato vine, a lovely squash.
Last week’s and today’s incense cones. A grateful little bottle of tincture to ward of the flu blues. And, last week’s incense burning.
My helper as I write this! Hibiscus
Tip: I try to make cones that stand upright on their own as I set them to dry.
I use a pan with a potholder under it to burn incense these days but, you could use a big flat rock, heat proof ceramic, etc. Or just on embers of a fire as I mentioned before. That seems a really nice way to burn incense.
Here is one of the posts that gave me the inspiration to try and they have good incense recipes to try too!
This was just a fun post for me to write and share. A way to connect with plants, herbs, spices. Aromatics. Grateful for the journey of collecting the pine resin some years ago. Some of it is still gooey and sticky. You can just roll that into an instant incense ball and burn that way!
Incense is used in so many traditions, so many different types from simple to complex. I really did not have the extra dough 😉 to get wine or honey this week or I may have made kyphi.
I was so ready for a quicker method and the aromatics have been so healing and fumigating for the flu!
I have made gallons of tea, taken ounces of tincture, herbal baths, sunshine and now incense to overcome the flu blues. Not bad, we are perking up again.
To finish, here is more of the crumbling old hotel and some plants nearby. (🌸🌿)
As we rounded the corner of the trail up past the recent rain driven spring we realized we were coming upon an historic site. I love these old vestiges of time alone but, also get excited by what plants would be nearby. From settlements and dwellings I suspected there would be herbs and cultivated plants as echoes from times past. Past gardens and plantings.
I was heartened upon greeting the blackberry vines upon first sight. Another plant teacher, learning and story to be grateful for.
Blackberry shrub vines along the old stone steps. Not far from a rushing spring from the last night’s rain.
Enjoy, as we surely do, this spring when it flows through the heart of the rugged Organ Mountains.
And incense has its roots in the word incensare: to rouse, inflame, inspire
What rouses you, ignites your passion, brings forth the aromatic heart of your pursuits?
Yellow dock/Curly dock
with green leaves, new green seeds and rust/red colored mature seeds.
Common names: Curly Dock, Yellow Dock, Yaller Dock, Sour Dock, Narrowleaf Dock, Curled Dock
Many species of Rumex exist.
Grows throughout U.S.
Originally from Europe and North Africa and West Asia. Has naturalized in many places of the world.
* * * * * * * * * * *…………………………………………………………………………………..
Caution: The word dock is a nickname for two Very Different Plants.
Here is my post about Burdock
The roots have much different effects.
Both have medicinal effects. Whereas burdock can be used as a vegetable and yellow dock/curly dock cannot be eaten in large quantities due to undesired/dangerous gastronomical effects!
*I am not an expert. A happy enthusiast for sure! Please seek expert advice when foraging foods!*
Back to Rumex crispus … Curly dock/Yellow dock
See USDA database:
And throughout the world:
Geographical range Native range: Africa; temperate and tropical Asia, India and Europe (USDA-ARS, 2010). Known introduced range: Continental Asia, Japan, North and South America, North and South Africa,Australia and New Zealand (USDA-ARS, 2010).
rumex leaves early fall/late summer
field of red/rust seed heads:
Grows to 2 to 5 feet tall
Seeds are viable in soil for 80+/- years
Can produce 29,000 seeds per plant
Habitat: Sides of Roads, Ditches, Fields, Meadows, Gardens, Woodlands, Grassy areas, Agricultural areas, Pastures
Can grow in sandy, loamy or heavy clay soils
Edible Parts: Leaves, Seeds
***Toxic to horses, cattle, sheep and poultry***
*caution needed for animals
Medicinal parts: Roots and to varying degrees leaves and seeds
Red Sorrel in the Buckwheat family.
I definitely want to look for and forage this lovely plant in the same family as Curly Dock!
Common Name: Sheeps Sorrel
Has characteristic arrow head shaped leaves
See links below for more information:
Image from above site.
Red Sorrel Leaf:
Leaves are important identifiers. In this case, Rumex crispus leaves have a curly wavy edge.
(Although Red Sorrel and Curly Dock are both edible…leaves are good distinguishers. Seeds are both shiny and brown. Getting sure with identification is essential and can save you from harm!)
With other Rumex species it may be better to distinguish between the fruit/seeds pattern of clumps of seeds too.
*Here is an informative site with leaf patterns of other docks:
Try learning one plant at a time really well. This may mean you will be learning about a lot of other plants that way…by comparing and distinguishing.
This is how I got acquainted with Red Sorrel!
Here is a picture of the Rumex crispus/Curly Dock leaves with newly mature rust brown seeds in mid July Wyoming.
See Plant Photos
Confirm with Field Guide/expert
-Grows from a basal set of leaves
-Leaves are smooth with a distinctive wavy and curly edge
-Lanceolate leaves are long and taper off
-It flowers June through October
southern hemisphere: (summer through mid fall)
-***Seeds ripen July through October.
Southern hemisphere: (Mid summer through mid fall)
-Seeds are rust colored, large long clusters of seeds.Triangulate and small. Become crimson rust colored when drying/dried out.
-Reproduces most by seed.
Foraging Tips:And Some Good Basics about Rumex crispus.
-Avoid areas near agricultural areas because of fertilizer and/or herbicide run-off.
-Avoid areas that look brown or dead compared to other green areas. This can indicate use of toxic herbicide
-Avoid areas with too much exhaust or pollutants
-*Mullein (see my post on Mullein) is a good soil indicator. When its long stalk is crooked or bent it often indicates soil pollution.
-Check on what Mullein looks like if it is nearby where you are foraging. Straight stalk is a good sign.
Still check for other signs of pollutants.
-When composting/discarding remnants consider volunteers that may grow
Toxic to horses, cattle, sheep, poultry and perhaps other animals.
-do not completely strip stalk it propagates mainly by seed unless you need to rid it of your land,
(might as well harvest.)
-*Also flowers and seeds/plant is habitat to many butterfly species and other wildlife.
-harvest spring leaves
-learn to identify leaves and fruit/seeds of plant you wish to harvest
-new leaves in spring often emerge at base of previous year’s stalks
-Be sure to harvest that year’s seeds.
Older stalks and seeds can stand for a year or more. May be moldy, too weathered, ridden with insects, etc.
-It is an oxalate food so consume in moderation
-New leaves have mucilaginous and slimy surface underneath leaf in spring. This can help with identification.
-The root is a yellow, large taproot which can fork off.
-Seeds are surrounded by calyx of flower and green when new and reddish brown when mature.
-Has many medicinal uses. Seek professional assistance with use.
-Please see medicinal use and cautionary notes at end of post:
Getting to Know You
After a number of months researching and asking questions to myself and others…I finally wild harvested some Curly Dock!
Here is a fun art query I made about curly dock. Reaching out to any friends on facebook who might know what this plant was that had me so intrigued. A friend of mine thought it might be sorghum. It is unclear to tell from the picture. But, Rumex crispus it is! 🙂
STORY OF PLACE.
EACH PLACE HAS A STORY. AND THE STORIES ARE INNUMERABLE DEPENDING ON THE TELLER AND THE TOLD. HERE IS ONE STORY OF CURLY DOCK
AND WHERE IT FOUND ITS PLACE.
Finally, after a lot of researching I discovered the mystery plant was Curly Dock or Yellow Dock as it is also known. I had heard of Yellow Dock’s medicinal uses. Funny how powerful it can be to recognize a plant and then realize you knew of healing uses of the plant all along. But, what good would that use be when foraging wild foods/medicinal herbs if one could not properly identify it?
Well, my time finally came.
Rumex crispus…where to begin?
I have been fascinated with the rust-red seeds on dried stalks as we dash down the highway for quite a few months now, if not years!
Often by ditches, sides of roads or fields. Growing together wild. Often as if sown in a row.
The color of Rumex crispus changes. When the seed first emerges it is green.
Then it matures to a red-rust color.
***The following picture was taken in early spring and from a plant that already matured previously. Not suitable for foraging at this stage.
From previous year’s growth.
They are beautiful and easy to identify at this stage.
Greener seeds earlier in the season
The idea of foraging a grain felt so satisfying. Like a precursor to the advent of domestic agriculture.
Foraging in favorite spots or telling areas that often yield curly dock.
Save some for sowing along trails you frequent year to year. Make flour from the seeds. Grow some in your garden! Even eat raw when hiking along.
Rumex crispus a.k.a. Curly dock or Yellow dock is a perennial. A welcome friend to see. It is a rich food source and healing herb.
It is buckwheat! Wild buckwheat, in fact!
After a lot of research and hunches and taking photos of the curly dock I came across…it was when I was in Wyoming at Elk Mountain in the Medicine Bow Range where I first foraged the Curly dock.
Unfortunately, or maybe appropriately, my camera was acting up that day so I do not have pictures of the stone circle/tipi ring that was nearby the stand of Curly dock.
*Scratch that! Several weeks later, I got a second time through. The sun was bright and I had trouble seeing but I got some images of the stone circle tipi ring!
And, here is the stone circle tipi ring.
(More info on stone circles North America)
It felt like a special place. Wyoming has spectacular views and a stone circle reminds me of people who lived thousands of years before. Waking up and living next to and admiring the same view of mountains that I was enjoying that one beautiful July day.
With Curly dock nearby…I wondered. I am not a botanist but, still… my imagination can be far reaching and without knowing for sure, my curiosity and imagination still wandered.
Curly dock is a perennial. It comes back year after year. Could I be harvesting from the same stands/offsprings of curly dock that grew all those thousands of years ago. I know this sounds hokey.
But, the simplest most plain of things can be the most profound. A perennial returns from the same source. Year after year. Perennial plants fascinate me and provide that link through time. Just as we are all connected to our ancestors from times past.
And stone circles and perennial plants reflect to us a continuance!
Annual plants are connected to predecessors over time as are perennials. It just seems more hit or miss. Or is it? Some annual plants have a quarter million seeds or more per plant like purslane does. So the purslane carries on just fine. Nevermind that the seeds can last decades! Time traveler! 🙂 Like plants we are all connected to our ancestors from times past.
At this stone circle site, did the people here also forage curly dock? It is likely because it has a longstanding history of use by original peoples of North America.
Also, I had a hunch that stone circles remain from dwellings not just in North America. Stone circles have also been found all over the world. Some being connected to portable dwellings, while others are significant as religious or ceremonial sites. Signifying respect. A stone left unturned could be the next story to come along.
(Here is some interesting information on the history of architecture and stone rings worldwide plus other use of stone:)
Here is info on annuals, perennials, biennials and frost tender perennials.
NUTRITION of Rumex crispus
a.k.a. Curly Dock/Yellow Dock
*Minerals: calcium, phosphorus, iron
*Vitamins: A, C, Thiamine, Riboflavin,
Additionally from this source:
Among its nutritional components, John Kallas (2010) explains, “Curly dock leaves are high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc” and the seeds are “rich in calcium and fiber while low in protein and fat.”
FOOD USES of CURLY DOCK and HULLING SEEDS:
When to Harvest Curly Dock:
*Something I have observed is that Curly Dock is a perennial so its beautiful crimson/rust seed heads can last well into the next growing seasons.
They are usually missing leaves (identifiers) at this stage. In some regions this stalk could be a few years old. The stalk will look brown and dried out and hollow. The seeds can still be attached…but will not be as fresh and more prone to mold, insects, etc.
So look for stalks/seeds that have just matured in the summer to early fall.
The basal leaves are usually gone but you will notice leaves will still remain on stalk and if early enough in the mature season for harvesting seeds…leaves will still remain near the base.
The pictures I have posted of the rust colored seeds also still have live leaves visible. See pictures below:
The leaves are best young in the spring time.
They can be used in salads or boiled/prepared as a green.
Eat in moderation. The leaves and perhaps other parts of the plant are high in oxalic acid.
Boiling leaves in multiple changes of water may help to reduce oxalic acid.
*Oxalic acid is common in many foods such as: beets, swiss chard, broccoli, etc.
But,anyone with kidney problems/stones or urinary tract problems should be careful with eating oxalate foods.
Some sources such as livestrong.com mention that adding citrus to oxalate foods may decrease oxalic acid effects but it is not conclusive.
Eat in moderation or avoid oxalate foods if a health condition indicates so.
Seek medical advice if concern exists.
The seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, ground into a flour, hulled and ground into a flour, boiled and also prepared/eaten with outer husks. Just consider there will be extra fiber in your meal!
The seeds are small and may be difficult to hull.
Some people suggest dry roasting mature seeds in a pan and rubbing away the heat dried husk. Between your hands or with a rolling pin…and then blow or use a light fan or breeze to whisk the husk chaff away from the seed.
I found this post on a comment thread that looked like a helpful way to remove the husk from the seed.
TIPS ON HULLING SEEDS:
Post by: Mike Fitzugh, on Jun 26, 2013 17:08:41
Get some aluminum window screen from the hardware store. (Fiberglass screen is what most modern window screens are made of and I think it’s too flimsy for this project, but maybe you can get it to work). Staple TWO LAYERS of this screen very tightly across a rectangular wooden frame. You want the screen taught enough so that the two screen layers are lying right next to each other. Note the point of doubling the screen thickness is to make the gap or holes in the screen effectively smaller (when layered) so, make sure the holes in the two layers are offset from each other when stapling.
Place this frame over a pan, cookie sheet, the ground–or wherever you want to catch the chaff. Now take 1/4 cup of VERY DRY dock seeds and put them in the middle of the screen frame. Rub the seeds back and forth across the screen with your fingers. Very quickly the chaff will fall through the gaps in the screen leaving the seeds on top. Brush the seeds off the top of the frame into a dish or bag. Voila! Separated seeds!
You might need to experiment with the dock seeds from your particular part of the world (or the screen size from your particular hardware store). In my climate (mountain, high desert) the dock seeds are quite small and fall through the gaps in the screen along with the chaff unless I double-layer the screen. …But even in that case (a single layer screen), the seeds that fall through are easily recovered by winnowing as described by Jon above. The rubbing of the seeds on the screen turns the chaff into a very fine dust which is easily blown away.
Recipe ideas and Recipes!
DO YOU LIKE GALLETE?
Personally, I want to make Curly Dock flour and make Gallete. (I am looking to find a suribachi to use for grinding the dock seeds.) Gallete is a French crepe traditionally made with buckwheat.
And Curly Dock is wild buckwheat. I look forward to this culinary adventure. And, will keep you posted!
Here is an interesting recipe for
Curly dock/Yellow dock Seed Crackers.
Use a blender/spice mill or mortar and pestle/suribachi to grind seeds too!
(Store extra dry dock seed flour in a jar, and whole seeds in a paper bag.)
Mix together :
one cup of dock seed flour
one teaspoon of salt
and one cup flour of your choice. (My favorites are whole-wheat pastry flour and rye flour.)
Mix in enough water to make pliable, but not sticky dough.
On a well-floured surface, roll dough as thin as possible. Cut into desired shapes or transfer it whole to a well-oiled cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 -12 minutes at 375 O or until crisp.
From this great site:
What about Curly Dock Pancakes? Folks from this site have a great recipe! Some of the recipe is measured out in grams. (Site for gram:ounce conversion below pancake recipe site)
Have You Ever Thought of Making Your Own Bitters for Club Soda or Alcoholic Drinks?
Check this out!
Yellow dock a.k.a. Curly dock is listed as well as other roots and herbs.
Bartenders and Enthusiasts alike are creating their own bitters.
Here is a recipe!
***(Please Consult a Health/Herbal Professional When Using Curly Dock medicinally.)
Alterative; Antiscorbutic; Astringent; Cancer; Cholagogue; Depurative; Homeopathy; Laxative; Poultice; Salve; Tonic.
Curly dock has a long history of domestic herbal use. It is a gentle and safe laxative, less powerful than rhubarb in its action so it is particularly useful in the treatment of mild constipation. The plant has valuable cleansing properties and is useful for treating a wide range of skin problems. All parts of the plant can be used, though the root is most active medicinally. The root is alterative, antiscorbutic, astringent, cholagogue, depurative, laxative and mildly tonic[4, 21, 46, 94, 165]. It used to be sold as a tonic and laxative. It can cause or relieve diarrhoea according to the dose, harvest time and relative concentrations of tannin(astringent) and anthraquinones (laxative) that are present. It is used internally in the treatment of constipation, diarrhoea, piles, bleeding of the lungs, various blood complaints and also chronic skin diseases[4, 238, 257]. Externally, the root can be mashed and used as a poultice and salve, or dried and used as a dusting powder, on sores, ulcers, wounds and various other skin problems. The root has been used with positive effect to restrain the inroads made by cancer, being used as an alterative and tonic. The root is harvested in early spring and dried for later use. Some caution is advised in its use since excess doses can cause gastric disturbance, nausea and dermatitis[222, 238]. The seed is used in the treatment of diarrhoea[4, 218]. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh root, harvested in the autumn before frost has touched the plant. It is only used in the treatment of a specific type of cough. Other Uses Compost; Dye.
Yellow, dark green to brown and dark grey dyes can be obtained from the roots. They do not need a mordant. An alternative ingredient of ‘QR’ herbal compost activator. (is it the flowers?) This is a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost[K].
*Here is a comprehensive site about healing uses of Curly/Yellow Dock. Also information on when to harvest the root and what year plant to harvest roots from. (Harvest in fall…)
See following site for more info on medicinal uses of root and the plant.
Thankyou for joining me on an exploration.
From stone circle tipi rings…near where I first harvested Curly Dock…a circular path like the perennial nature of Rumex crispus. Knowledge is best layered with experience and I am still learning. In this way knowledge is like a branch that reaches back and forth. Now between me and you and I am grateful!
Wild Prickly Lettuce
An annual plant
or biennial plant
-It can grow to over 6 feet in height
-found in fields, disturbed sites such as roadsides,
-Originally a plant from Europe. Originating first
Wild prickly lettuce going to seed.
***Use a good field guide to identify plants. Forage with someone who knows.***
I often refer to:
Edible Wild Plants. By Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman. Sterlingpublishing.com
*Plus I research numerable other sources…please do the same.*
Well, our semi-trailer truck broke down. A great spill of oil from our engine. A deplorable event for the immediate environment and for our day. Wouldn’t you know it? We broke down to the closest town. Bliss, Idaho.
Once we sussed out what was going on. Put the emergency triangles out. Made calls to emergency repair trucks (who ended up ripping us off for $300,) got the pets comfortable, made calls, sipped on water in the difficult heat with no AC…made lunch to fuel our reservoir of energy for dealing and enduring what became a 9 hour or longer wait by the side of the road, made more calls, waited twice for tow trucks that didn’t come, had our hopes dashed when one of the tow trucks forgot to bring required equipment. Tried to navigate our options. Finally in the late evening we got towed to the Freightliner 50 or so miles away. Cha-ching what a day.
Amidst all this chaos and lapses in the heat. I couldn’t help but admire the wild prickly lettuce greeting me assuredly from the side of the road. The name of my blog is wildlettucegal…I knew eventually, sooner than later, I would have amassed that lovely combo of timing, information, inspiration to write and the opportunities to inspect and photograph the lettuce.
I even wrote a blog about the road breakdown but, I deleted it. It lacked the oomph. I needed to tap into the tipping point of inspiration. And, today, two days later…I have found it.
As a child I was happily feverish about reading Greek and Roman mythology. I would spend hours, especially, reading about Odysseus or Ulysses. Other myths fascinated me. Medusa fascinated/terrified me. Images of her snake filled crown devastated my ability to sleep at night. The age of nine is when I distinctly remember flipping through a book on Greek mythology…only to be transfixed by her graphic image. Beheaded no less.
Needless to say I could have benefitted from wild lettuce’s soporific, dream inducing qualities. Being nine was a bad year for insomnia. That’s when I saw clips from the exorcist. Cinema’s graphic and gorey cinematic mythology. I did not sleep much at the age of nine.
I now have a tattoo of Medusa on my arm. When I started painting 15 years ago…Medusa was my first series of paintings. Somewhere during that series I remembered an image of myself at the age of nine flipping through a Greek mythology book and spotting the image of Medusa for the first time. I’m glad I took the art route around that one.
So, as you may now understand, in my quirky sense of jubilance…and even current interest in mythology old and new, I was thrilled to learn the mythology connected to wild prickly lettuce.
According to Wikipedia:
The lovely, passionate and triumphant goddess Aphrodite had put to final rest the lovely mortal Adonis who was slain by a boar.
She was transfixed by this beautiful mortal and grieved of his loss.
Aphrodite laid Adonis to rest on a bed of wild lettuce.
Sappho is also known to write and account this myth.
(Wild lettuce has a connection to the world of the dead and I wonder if it is its soporific qualities which provides this kind of mythological link. The dreamworld perhaps being a portal to the world of the dead. Or perhaps a closer realm?)
The Egyptian god Min is also associated with wild prickly lettuce.
The ancient greeks believed the juice of the plant was good for eye ulcers.
The Navajo use it as a ceremonial emetic.
It has a reputation as being calming and sleep inducing for insomniacs. It is even said to have mild opiate qualities.
Even today wild prickly lettuce is eaten in Crete. A variety of Maroula or agrimaroulo is eaten boiled. Culinary traditions remain to this day.
I’ve never tried it for anything other than an edible wild food but wouldn’t mind its calming effect either.
Similar to purslane which contains lithium. I like when food helps me feel better. But, I’m not recommending an overuse of the plant.
The plant seems to have a built in mechanism for overuse. Eating too many leaves causes stomach upset. And the seeds contain some tannins.
*For those of you interested in the healing aspects and indications of wild lettuce…here is a helpful site.
*Also, here is a comprehensive page about Wild Lettuce which also distinguishes it from
Wikipedia describes Lactuca virosa as well:
Here is a picture of Lactuca virosa
This image is from the following source:
© Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary’s College. Permission to use is granted freely to not-for-profit organizations and for a per-image fee for commercial use. Contact Prof. R. P. Olowin at St. Mary’s College email@example.com for more information.
And it is used medicinally and/or as a mild psychotropic but is not my focus here and has a wide range of historical use, but, not necessarily as wild edible. There are also a lot of side effects to its use. But, I wanted to include it here so as to distinguish it from the wild edible Lactuca serriola
Back to and in regard to Lactuca serriola
*I like the harvesting ethics outlined by Merriweather
NUTRITION AND HARVESTING TIPS:
*Lactuca serriola a.k.a. wild prickly lettuce is an annual or biennial plant so leave some plants to reproduce by seed.
*according to Elias and Dykeman: Leaf shapes can vary and can be multilobed/with points and/or oval oblong. Leaves are toothed and spiny along margin and main vein under leaf and the lower leaf surface.Proper identification is crucial.*
*I’ve read that older leaves are slightly toxic
*According to Merriweather,when the wild prickly lettuce plant flowers it is said to be inedible.
*Harvest young leaves they are the most tender
*Best to harvest from plants under 8 inches.
*older/larger leaves can be eaten when boiled
*Edible during spring and summer before the plant flowers or is in seed
*the spines on back of middle vein of leaf are usually soft enough to be eaten when the leaves are small.
*the spines on leaves do not tear clothing or injure
skin. But gloves may be useful re: sap, etc.
*leaves can be boiled as a pot green.
Herbalextractsplus.com sites these NUTRITIONAL qualities also:
When dried, the leaves produce a milky latex substance called lactucarium, which is used in herbal medicine. Some of the constituents in Wild Lettuce include the important milky latex substance (lactucarium), sesquiterpene lactones ( lactucopicrin), caoutchouc, mannitol, lactucin, fiber, coumarins and valuable minerals and vitamins.
Beneficial Uses: Wild Lettuce is considered a mild sedative herb.
Contains vitamin A, B and minerals
*I agree with Merriweather and only harvest one or two leaves per plant. I also consider how many plants are in the area I am harvesting from. Also look at the plant and harvest in such a way as not to kill the plant if you can.
It is known as the compass plant because in the sun the upper leaves twist round to hold their margins upright. 
Here are some new flowers emerging. I was happy to find these.
And here is a picture of wild prickly lettuce when it is a bit larger
And flowers sprouted out on long stems from the top
And a closeup view of flower buds
The leaves have a bit of a firm texture. Even the new leaves. The prickles on main vein of back of leaf are edible when new leaves are raw.
I thought the leaves would be good in a salad.
I tasted them raw and un-garnished and they do have a bitter aftertaste. But, I enjoyed them.
I also harvest 1 or 2 leaves per plant to avoid over-harvesting. I grasp the leaf and carefully strip it from the stalk. Another forager taught me this tip. You can see the ends on the leaves above were harvested this way rather than being sheered off.
Milky sap after pinching the top leaves off… were bitter when eaten raw…
You may want to wear gloves because the sap was milky. This may cause irritation to skin and it was sticky.
More on Mythology and Cultural Accounts of use of Wild Prickly Lettuce that inspired me to write this blog are these entries:
I found this on Mesocosm.net
a Sumerian poem about lettuce
Lettuce is My Hair
My hair is lettuce, [planted] by the water,
It is gukkal-lettuce, [planted] by the water….
My attendant arranges it,
The attendant arranges my hair which is lettuce, the most-favored of plants.
The brother brought me into his life-giving gaze,
Shu-Sin has called me to (his) refreshing …. without [end].
You are our lord, you are our lord,
Silver (and) lapis lazuli – you are our lord,
Farmer who makes the grain stand high, – you are our lord,
For him who is the honey of my eye, who is the lettuce of my heart,
May the days of life come forth…..
It is a balbale of Inanna.
Translated by S. N. Kramer, from the indispensable volume
Pritchard JB (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press. 1969.
***And, finally I found this wonderful site on plants in mythology and have excerpted their info on Prickly Lettuce here:
Greek : Thridax
Species : Lactuca serriola
Description : The ancient Greeks cultivated the wild prickly lettuce. The plant has tall stalks with elongated leaves, yellow flowers and feathery seeds. The ball-shaped lettuce of today is a derivitive species (Lactuca sativa).
Sacred to : Aphrodite (the plant was associated with impotency)
Mythology : Death of Adonis. Adonis was a handsome youth loved by the goddess Aphrodite. He was slain by a wild boar in a bed of lettuce, or was laid out amongst the plants by the goddess following his death. The lettuce was therefore regarded as the plant of the death of love, and so of impotency. Others say that the baby Adonis was hidden in a lettuce bed by the goddess following his birth from the trunk of the tree Myrrha. (Source: Athenaeus)