foraging and preserving nettles

The old-timers would take bitters in early spring, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens. Nettle is good for all of us here on the farm, and can be used in many ways. In early spring we head out foraging.

sun-dried-nettles

Harvest the nettles

The moment to forage stinging nettles for fresh eating and preserving is a dry day in early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves, long trousers and sleeves and great respect for the plants are required. I keep a bit of calendula or comfrey salve to hand for stings. We like to use a pair of snips and a burlap sack, and we just cut the top few leaves, plenty of them as they dry down to very little! Then we take them home to preserve.

Preserve the nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. They should crush to a powder. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Or, if you catch a good warm, dry day, you can lay them out on a clean sheet and turn them now and then til they are crisp. Fresh or dry, or a combination of both, you can make them into a nettle tincture.

Store the nettles

I love to have a store of dried nettle and tinctures put away for the year. As a tincture they store indefinitely. Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring.

Use the nettles

A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to provide me with mineral-rich tisanes as I was convalescing after an illness, and later on we gathered a huge batch together. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength and are particularly good to help counter my iron-deficiency. You can make fresh nettle soup, pestos, ravioli too.

Nettles for flora and fauna

When the nettles are older they’re no longer safe for teas and soups, but they are excellent for making a liquid fertiliser for the garden – simply cover with water, put a lid on it, and allow to decompose til liquid. Then dilute to use. Goats love to eat nettles fresh, and our ducks and chickens like them if we crush them first to remove the sting. How great to create fertilisers and fodder from the wild larder! Closing the loop on fertility and feed is a huge step toward greater community-reliance.

dried-nettles

Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions, medicinal tisanes, fertilisers and fresh eating is a very old, trusted practice. It feels good to continue it.

hopscotch

Peevers, peeverels, pabats, piko, bebeleche, kith-kith, laylay, potsy, pon, delech, avioncito, scotch hobbies, hop-score! Peregrina, rayuela, bebeleche, amarelinha, rrasavi, thikrya, marelle ronde, himmel und hölle, hopscotch! When a game dates back to the 17th century, and possibly to the Romans, it usually passed through cultures and played around the world, with variations in name and technique accordingly. Here’s an illustrated guide to hopscotch, one of those good old fashioned games that hasn’t wavered in popularity these four hundred years. Unlike jacks and marbles, there’s no need for revival, no generation missed – long live scotch hobbies!

hopscotch-1

First, toss the pebble into a square, not touching any scotches or scores.

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Then hop, not touching a line, nor falling out, or forfeit.

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Land on a pair with one foot neatly inside each square.

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Leap over the square with the stone.

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Hop. If one has no chalk and paving, a stick in the dirt will do. I admire a game with great simplicity of materials.

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Turn at the end. Some variants have a safe square there, or a semicircle, for turning.

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Pick up the marker, don’t lose your balance! And hop through. We shall have to try the variant which requires you to kick the marker along with you.

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Sometimes we draw the spiral variation as in the French marelle ronde or escargot.

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Grace, balance, aim.

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We write numerals in, in contemporary fashion, but a square is all that’s needed.

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There’s a good simple game. Did you grow up playing this one?

kite flying

To celebrate our younger child’s birthday, we took her into the city to choose a strong and pretty kite, then wandered along a lane together to the best kite-flying park. The rest of the world can be quite still, yet this trusty spot will bluster enough to launch your kite, if anything is bound to.

kite-flying

Simple, joyful stuff. Physics, magic, as you like it.

flying kites

I’d have liked to have constructed a kite with my little girl, perhaps out of bamboo and silk as the first ones were in China, over 2800 years ago! But traditional games are such a pleasure, even if you don’t make the piece yourself.

kite flying

In fact, I once made a kite in art school, and flew it in this very spot. I built a large, transparent kite, and printed it with a life-sized image of me on it, as if I were flying. After three failed kite flying attempts and much consultation with our local, famous, 80-year old stunt-kitesman, who would talk to me about my kite/performance piece whilst flying three kites at once, I finally flew my kite/myself, high in the air. Pure joy! Where have those images gone? Hmm. The piece later informed my street banners, which lined Vancouver’s streets for the millennium.

Kiting has a long and varied history across the world:

The kite was said to be the invention of the famous 5th century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban. By at least 549 AD paper kites were being flown, as it was recorded in that year a paper kite was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources list other uses of kites for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations. The earliest known Chinese kites were flat (not bowed) and often rectangular. Later, tailless kites incorporated a stabilizing bowline. Kites were decorated with mythological motifs and legendary figures; some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying.

After its introduction into India, the kite further evolved into the fighter kite known as the patang in India where thousands are flown every year on festivals such as Makar Sankranti.
Kites were known throughout Polynesia, as far as New Zealand, with the assumption being that the knowledge diffused from China along with the people. Anthropomorphic kites made from cloth and wood were used in religious ceremonies to send prayers to the gods. Polynesian kite traditions are used by anthropologists get an idea of early “primitive” Asian traditions that are believed to have at one time existed in Asia.

Kites were late to arrive in Europe, although windsock-like banners were known and used by the Romans. Stories of kites were first brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13th century, and kites were brought back by sailors from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although they were initially regarded as mere curiosities, by the 18th and 19th centuries kites were being used as vehicles for scientific research.
In 1750, Benjamin Franklin published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. It is not known whether Franklin ever performed his experiment, but on May 10, 1752, Thomas-Francois Dalibard of France conducted a similar experiment (using a 40-foot (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud.

Kites were also instrumental in the research and development of the Wright brothers when building the first airplane in the late 1800s. Over the next 70 years, many new kite designs were developed, and often patented. These included Eddy’s tail-less diamond kite, the tetrahedral kite, the flexible kite, the sled kite, and the parafoil kite, which helped to develop the modern hang-gliders. In fact, the period from 1860 to about 1910 became the “golden age of kiting”. Kites started to be used for scientific purposes, especially in meteorology, aeronautics, wireless communications and photography; many different designs of man-lifting kite were developed as well as power kites.

In other words, pure joy.

yo-yo

Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

penny whistle

Penny whistles are fine little folk instruments, a variation on the old world wooden whistle. The tin whistle was first made in Victorian times and has a splendid story to go with it. My penny whistle was constructed very much as these whistles always were, not far from our little cottage, and it arrived complete with a sheet of Victorian singing games.

tin whistle © elisa rathje 2012

It’s a pretty little pipe, I’m quite fond of it, especially for joining in on a jig with my tall violinist.

The penny whistle is also one of the traditional instruments I like for playing the little appleturnover song I made up a long time ago. For requesting apple turnovers, naturally. If you like you can listen to it. The children helped me with the very important bit of singing.

marbles

Like so many good old fashioned pastimes, playing marbles has fallen out of fashion in the last few decades, despite centuries of popularity all over the world. People in the Indus valley in the Bronze age played marbles, the Romans played marbles, the ancient Egyptians played marbles. I didn’t grow up playing marbles, but like so many good old fashioned games and skills, I’m learning along with my children.

marbles © elisa rathje 2011

There are so many ways to play marbles, with variations as rich as there are regional accents.

The way that we like to play is with an archboard, shooting marbles through in order. I think my father likes to call this ‘mousehole’ and he taught it to my children. My childhood fondness for the things was almost purely aesthetic. I could still spend long moments absorbed in the depths and beauty of a glass marble.

In our old cottage the phrase ‘losing your marbles’ does come up a lot, as there is an unfortunate slant to the floor that angles toward a gap under the stairs, just the size to take your best marble. The other day I encountered a mouse bowling a horse-chestnut towards that very spot. Mousehole! I can just imagine the games those mice are playing with our marbles, below stairs. It explains a lot, really.