In between these sessions I explored the mountains. On these trips, the plants I saw never ceased to captivate me. They looked like powerful medicine, I thought. These seemed to be more than just pretty plants.
Curiosity drove me to the local library to check out books on Norwegian wild plants as food and medicine. I was quickly drawn to Rolv Hjelmstad’s book, “Medicinal Plants of Norway”. I felt awestruck as I began to learn more about all of the magical plants that surrounded me. Realizing that I knew nothing about them, I had everything to learn. I picked what different plants I could and would try to reference them in the book. What I could find in the book, I would taste and log it in my journal, with a drawing and my notes. I felt like a kid again, discovering the most precious gift about the world around me.
My health history was full of struggle. All my life I had been living on a miserable diet of way too many grains, factory-farmed animals and chemically-fed vegetables. The word “organic” did not have a home in my body or in my kitchen. To recreate my health history, follow this recipe: combine a not-so-healthy way of eating with a not-so-healthy way of living, add a few drops of childhood trauma and a blend into a traumatized society. The result will inevitably be in some form of illness. My illness was most obviously expressed in the forms of an eating disorder and amenorrhea. When I went to Hemsedal, the physical components of my eating disorder were on track for healing; however, the disorder of the mind persisted. I needed to be present at all times to not let old patterns take the lead.
My menstruation had still not returned. I refused to take more hormonal pills, since I had been snacking on the pill ever since I got my period. (I never got the operation manual for how to exist in a woman’s body, which would be useful as it is rather complex.) As I read about the different wild plants, I learned that many are supportive of women’s health. Some (certainly not all) of these plants include wild raspberry leaf, lady’s mantle, red clover, yarrow and nettle. I was inspired me to try them (and look, no side effects!). I also tried plants that would heal my digestive track—plants like plantain, dandelion and nettle. As you might guess, an eating disorder does not do the body any good. Plants for healing my whole being, from head to toe, made sense to try out. In this process, I began to feel full of energy. I felt like I started to download something new into my body.
What exactly did I download? The feeling that these plants contain ancient wisdom, connecting me to generations past and the larger biotic community. They work in the big picture, not just to numb a symptom. It suddenly felt like my whole life, up until now, I had been blinded from crucial information—crucial information on how to live wholly/holy on this Earth, with a body in symbiosis with Her. Until now, I had been siphoned off from the benefit of Her wild and natural abundance. How could it be, that this earth has created all that we need in abundance, as a gift for us? This has been a mystery to me, but our ancestors knew this and utilized them, passing this information on through generations. But at some point it must have stopped. As a child, I was taught that dandelions are poisonous. Today, I have learned the opposite, that dandelions give us an amazing source of food and medicine that can heal a lot of our modern lifestyle-related problems.
Back in the city of Oslo, armed with all these new insights, I felt pushed out the door to explore my surroundings with new eyes and forage bioregional foods. I took my bike to Maridalen, a valley just outside of the capital. There I harvested easily recognizable plants like dandelion and nettle. I would also pick plants that looked interesting and bring them back home to reference. In this way, I learned about new plants—the edible, the inedible and the medicinal. I took precaution to never eat anything I could not identify.
By eating bioregionally, I found myself in relationship with the plants around me. Through this process, my body and immune system eventually grew stronger. I could sense healing beyond what was visible—from the cleansing and detoxifying aspects to the process of rebuilding the whole being, providing energy, stability and vitality.
Plants are peculiar. They do not treat isolated symptoms, but, rather, look for the root cause. This method of healing takes time and patience of the person using a natural approach to lifestyle challenges, but it has been working for me.
How could I incorporate wild foods into my practice? I would start with the easy stuff, like preparing a wild salad with dandelion, wood sorrel, chickweed, paired with other ingredients like organic salad greens, tomato, cucumber, avocado and a dressing. I would also begin frying nettle shoots in butter (like you would with spinach). As my confidence with wild foods grew, I would gradually do more. For me, it was important not to do too much and accept a natural pace in this process of learning new habits and unlearning old habits. It was not easy to be self-motivated or to be mocked for “eating rabbit food”. (I believe that people do not necessarily have bad intentions when they say such things, but I found it helpful to steer clear of debates on the topic, especially when I felt triggered by something). What I was doing felt so right that I did not need to argue about it. Note to self: “Always do things for yourself. When you do it for others, your flame will burn out. It was not yours to start with”. I also felt that I did this for reasons bigger than myself. Yes, I have had my own relevant challenges, but I have also heard these echoed by those around me. So, can our bioregional plants heal us? Well, the plants are definitely healing me. They have done so, and they continue to do so. After many years of patient exploration, and guidance from various holistic health practitioners and books, I was guided by a compass trying to get to the root cause of the challenges I faced. At times, it could seem like there were almost endless layers to work through—like an onion, peeling back layer after layer.
I believe many of us have an innate fear of wild plants. This fear has rooted in the mind. Vanguishing those mental blocks takes time and knowledge. It served me to get out there, trust (by actively participating in the learning process) and harvest the wild plants that surrounds us! They want you to harvest them! It may seem like a big barrier at first, but just trying will have benefits on many levels. I would recommend arming yourself with reference materials at every step of the way, to learn as you go and practice precaution by referencing wild plants before consuming them!
All wild plants are, of course, wild. This means they grow where they like, and do what they want. In this way, they have developed their own tools for protection. They are dense with taste and nutrients. When I started eating wild foods, my palate was not used to those flavors. I needed to take smaller doses. For instance, dandelion is a bitter herb, and will have a potent bitter taste. That bitterness can take some time to get used to (and it’s worth it, as the bitter tonic makes a good digestive stimulant). As my taste buds developed, I noticed that each wild food would taste more complex and more delicious. I also noticed the immense effect the plants had on my body and hormones.
Because eating bioregionally forges relationships with the plants around you, your body and immune system adapts to your environment and grows stronger through the process. I had a yearning to explore more, and I knew that I had to leave Oslo to do this. I signed up to be a budeie one more summer but, this time, in a new place and for a longer period. This new place was in Oppland, near Valdres, which is one of my favorite places in Norway, remarkable for its serene natural beauty. This sæter was nothing less of serene. There are just a few spots with cell phone reception. It’s a long distance from anybody or anything, but small lakes, clean water, pure air, wild forests, wild foods and wild animals abound. In this place, I could really feel my whole body getting the sense of recovery it so deeply longed for. I enjoyed the best wild foods I had ever tasted (and the best fresh butter and brown goat cheese, which I made every day the old school way). After short while, my menstruation returned. This seemed like nothing short of a miracle. I was in ecstasy, affirming the decision I had made to trust in the process. I had not taken any short-cuts and put my trust in the plants!
This sæter offered me time to reflect upon how far the wild foods and I have come over the last 6 years. Since I started to open up to these wild plants, changes beyond my comprehension have occurred. It just goes to show that these plants heal the body and mind in a very complex way. They are wild, creating their own rules to guide their survival, and I trust them to guide the way. They work quietly and subtly. You will come to know if you try them. My inspiration to learn grows deeper every year. Still sometimes a pesto turns out like crap or some fermented wild foods go down the rabbit hole. These alleged “failures” are important opportunities for learning, not a sign to give up! I remind myself often with “something is always better than nothing” and to follow my own pace (not compare myself to where others are on their path). The experience with foraging, harvesting and eating wild foods can be seen as an opportunity to practice joyfulness. It is not another task that needs to get done. Ignite your inner spark for wild foods, and the benefits are sure to be wild!
My favorites herbs for herbal salt: wild leeks (ramps or ramsons), wild garlic and nettle.
What you need: Sea salt or himalayan salt, & herb(s) of your choice.
How to: Collect the desired herb for your salt. Place equal amounts of salt and fresh herb, 50/50, in a blender, and blend until smooth. If it looks too watery, add more salt. (It is important that the herb is fresh, and not dried). Put the paste-like salt on a baking pan with baking sheet, trying to get an even layer. Put the baking pan into the oven and let dry on 50-60 Celsius. Keep the oven door slightly ajar with an appropriate (not plastic or flammable material) to let the moisture out. The process may take up to 2 days depending on the water content of your mix.
When it is completely dried, there may be lumps that you can pulverize with your hands and fingers. If the lumps are too hard, put them into your blender and blend until you get the consistency you prefer. Keep in a glass jar, out of light.
Dandelion Root Coffee
What you need: Dandelion roots. As many as you want.
How to: You need to harvest dandelion roots (preferably in fall) and scrub/wash clean, so you are left with a pretty clean root. Chop the roots into small pieces (imagine the size of a big coffee bean) and put in the oven to dry at 50 Celsius until they are completely dry! It is very important to be sure that they are dried; if not, they will mold. When they are completely dry, they can be stored this way, and you make use them for different things I will mention later.
If you desire coffee, you will need to roast the dried pieces in a pan on medium to high heat, stirring throughout the whole process. As with coffee beans, you can roast these pieces for as long as you desire, for a darker blend. But I recommend not burning them too hard. After they are roasted, you may store them at the prepared size. Later you can grind them in a coffee grinder, or a blender, whenever you are ready to make some dandelion coffee. (You may also decide to blend in advance, and store ground.)
To brew: Brew the dandelion root coffee as you would regular coffee. Use 6 tablespoons powder with 500ml boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain into a saucepan to reheat or strain and put into fridge for iced coffee! I usually blend with a milk of choice, add a little collagen, and maybe even honey.
What you need: Harvested in early spring—Ground elder, dandelion, garlic mustard, ramsons, birch leaf. Also, something pickled or fermented, cucumber, celery, rice and a good salad dressing. (Remember: there is no limit to a salad. You can add whatever you want and also omit whatever you want. You can change rice with cold potatoes, for example.)
How to: Mix it all together. If you are new to wild foods, I would add regular lettuce to this, just to make the bitter tasting herbs a bit more mild. For the dressing, I like to mix dijon mustard with tahini, honey, apple cider vinegar, salt, turmeric powder and olive oil.
Elderflower Cordial Twist
Disclaimer: This is not syrup. It is not super sweet,
and it needs to be preserved in the freezer.
What you need: Elderflower (preferably picked on a sunny day), one organic lemon, vanilla beans. (Sugar or alternative sweetener, like honey, is optional.)
How to: Fill a glass jar full of flowers, sliced lemon and a pinch of vanilla beans. (If you want to add any sweeteners, you can do that now, so that it dissolves with the warm water.) Pour fresh boiled water over the mixture until all is covered. Put on the lid and let it sit out until it’s at room temperature. Then I leave it in the fridge for 3-4 days to get more concentrated. Then I freeze the cordial in ice cubes, so they are ready-to-go when I want something other than water. Sometimes I put a few ice cubes in my water bottle. Or boil water, add a few ice cubes and maybe a teaspoon of honey to make tea!
Herbal infusion provides protein, minerals, phytoestrogens, and special fats. Here is an infusion of raspberry leaf and lady’s mantle.
What you need: Any handful of herb of your choice.
How to: In the evening, before you go to bed, prepare a big jar with a handful of an herb. Boil water. When ready, pour freshly boiled water over the herb, and put the lid on. Let it sit until the next morning. You may place the whole jar in the fridge. You may strain out leaves after 2 days, if you manage to have it for that long!, or strain out the leaves the following morning. Drink it at room temperature. This makes a nice alternative to juice or water.
This is an article from Hauste Magazine.
Words by Nicoline Helene Constantine Stang.
Photographs by Svein Gunnar Kjøde.