Foraging Fun: Highbush Cranberries

Highbush cranberry is one of those plant names that, as an amateur botanist, fills me with a number of conflicting but equally reasonable emotions. It is one of those names that when taken in a literal context appears to be bewilderingly inaccurate and deliberately misleading but when observed under a different connotation is filled with a cultural charm that reveals much about the way we perceive and relate to the world, and perhaps even more importantly, how we communicate our understanding of that world to others. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Highbush Cranberries”

Winter Sprucer 2.0: Tasting Notes

As soon as is it humanly possible after the fermentation process is over, bottling begins. There is no harm in leaving the fermented beer inside of your carboy/fermentation vessel for a little while considering that the alcohol generated by the frenzied activity by the yeast post-fermentation now acts as a natural preservative, but the longer one waits to bottle the longer one is going to have to wait in order to sample the finished product. I could hardly wait, and at sometimes I almost, nearly, couldn’t. Walking past all that (hopefully) delicious beer almost everyday and knowing that it wasn’t yet ready to be savored is a tribulation and test of personal endurance that I’m sure every home brewer can relate to. Continue reading “Winter Sprucer 2.0: Tasting Notes”

Foraging Fun: Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as the maidenhair tree or just plain ginkgo, has got to be one of the most distinctive, and in my mind interesting and captivating, plants in the world. Believed to be truly indigenous to only a single province in China , this 270 million year old species belongs to an ancient lineage of species that have since disappeared for one reason or another over the past few millennia, making Ginkgo biloba (known as a ‘living fossil’) the sole extant representative of what was once a vast and diverse group of organisms. In fact, the ginkgo tree is so unlike any other living plant species that this tree has it’s own genus, family, order, class and division. To put this into terms that may be easier to conceptualize: the only thing that ginkgo trees have in common with other plants is they are also plants. This means that pretty much everything about their genetic make-up, physiology, general behavior, reproductive strategies (including their mobile sperm; a trait particular to ferns, cycads and algae) and even their ability to photosynthesize is anywhere between slightly-off to fundamentally different from any other living plant. Oh, and you can eat it’s seeds. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Ginkgo biloba”

Achille’s Heal Gruit Ale: Tasting Notes

The completion of this recipe marks the beginning of a new era for me in terms of my gradual evolution as a home brewer;  bit of an eccentric home brewer at that. There are a few different techniques and ingredients featured in Achille’s Heal Gruit ale that I have read extensively about but never put into practice until now. The first major change that was made was my switch from using almost exclusively liquid malt extract (LME) to experimenting with dry malt extract (DME),. I’ve got to say that I welcome this change and will very likely continue to use DME from now on. I find it significantly less messy and you don’t need as much of it because LME contains roughly 10% water and so is slightly less concentrated than the DME which has all of the water removed from it. Furthermore, I made the switch from amber malt to pale malt, although this was made not necessarily out of preference but because I was attempting to replicate a different style in this beer: something with a very light malt profile and much more hop character and bitterness. This, I believe, I most definitely achieved. Continue reading “Achille’s Heal Gruit Ale: Tasting Notes”

Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is probably one of my favorite native perennial medicinal herbs. It was one of the first plants that I learned to identify with confidence, and it is a common sight in many parts of the northern hemisphere, found virtually right across the top of our world. One of the chief medicinal applications of yarrow has been to both as a topical disinfectant and to stop profuse bleeding when wounded. It’s these compounded characteristics of the plant which earned it its genus name Achillea. Achilles is a warrior in Greek mythology who was believed to have treated the injuries his soldiers sustained in battle by applying a poultice of crushed yarrow leaves.

Indigenous peoples, where ever they have access to this plant, developed surprisingly similar medicinal and therapeutic traditions for yarrow, many of which have been proven by modern science including it’s ability to increase perspiration and thin the blood. Folk medicinal proclaims yarrow to be almost something of a cure-all, and many of this proposed medicinal attributes I can personally vouch for either directly or indirectly including it’s effectiveness for soothing sore throats, relieving nasal congestion, easing headaches and discouraging/relieving symptoms of indigestion and nausea. Continue reading “Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale”