Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dug in like a Tick

Like the main character in the movie "Avatar", I see Sigourney Weaver's face and hear that line.

once again I am battling an imbedded tick.

I don't know why I am a tick haven.  I love all animals-except mean ones.  And ticks fall into that category.  Perhaps they sense my compassion for living things and think they can get a free meal.  The Willow said this morning, "Maybe it is because you smell like the woods and not all perfumey."

Funny, she's getting old enough to try and phrase things like that as a compliment.

Whatever the reason, I have had two ticks in less than a week.  Saturday I found one on my neck.  Not "dug in" thank heavens.  Burned that sucker.

Then during the night on Monday my belly was itchy.  Yesterday morning I pulled up my shirt and looked in the mirror and swore violently.  Another tick!  I grabbed it and pulled and felt/heard that distinctly snap.  I burned the tick and looked again.  Yep, dark spot, left something behind.

I went to the sewing kit and grabbed a needle and started prodding.  Yes, the needle is supposed to be sterilized with a lit match or alcohol, but I didn't do that this time. I pride myself with my splinter removal techniques, but something about tick parts stuck in me makes me panic.

The Firebird said this morning that ticks inject something to make the skin tough so that they are not easily removed.  I already knew from experience that they also have an anesthetic effect because you can jab and yank and not feel any pain during the process.  I had suspected they inject some sort of liquefier like a spider to make things nice and juicy, but skin toughener must be part of the process as well.

I finally managed to get the needle behind the tick part and started pulling and the needle broke. AAgh.

Last year or the year before I had a tick leave a part in a bite in the crease of my thigh and spent at least a month trying to get it out before I finally went to the clinic.  The PA took one look and said to leave it alone and stop picking it, that it would work it's way out.  That it wasn't healing because I was picking it. Haha.

A couple years ago I had a tick imbed in the middle of my back, one place I couldn't pick.  I did have the Willow have several goes at it.  The Firebird doesn't stomach things like that.  I suffered for MONTHS.  Finally I had a friend come over and stretched out on my stomach on the hood of the car and gave him an arsenal of things to get the nasty thing out.  He did get some pieces out, but I kept insisting that more was there because I could feel the needle catching on something, so he kept digging.  He kept insisting he got it all, so I gave up and went to the ER.  HA that doc had a fit. Apparently my friend had excavated a pretty good hole in my back!  And Doc couldn't see anything else either but muttered I was going to have a scar... And wanted to know why I had the bite for months and then just showed up in the ER...

Well, that did heal, and I credit my friend for digging all the pieces and compromised tissue out of it.  Who cares if it scarred-I can't see back there!

And as far as the other one went, the one the clinic wouldn't deal with and told me to leave alone, yeah right! That kept itching and I finally managed to get the tick parts all out.  I would get some out and put antibiotic ointment and a bandaid but after a few days I could tell that it wasn't healing and there was still more in there, so I would have to go after it again.  Such a relief to finally get the last bit out!

So yesterday after I broke the needle I did the bandaid for the wait and see, hoping it would just work out.  Last night it started itching again, so I put some Yarrow tincture, more neosporin, new bandaid. 

This morning it was itching again.  Ok, this is WAR!  I got another needle, ransacked the house for the tweezers, and soaked both in Yarrow tincture (100 proof alcohol).
I broke the needle pulling on it.  I can't believe it!  I got under the head of it and pulled and my skin was stretched up and that thing would NOT come out! So I got a pin.

I got the pin under there and bent the pin pulling.  So I got another pin.  I pushed this pin right through so it was under the tick head.  I tried to get a grip on the tick head with the tweezers as I was pulling up I could see the dark head protruding, but I could not get a grip with the tweezers.  So I walked around with the pin sticking through it for a few minutes trying to come up with a plan.  I felt like a 50-something Goth chic.

Hmm I have some surgical scissors.  How about if I pull up on it and then cut beneath it?  So I gave that idea a try.  The only trouble is the scissors have been used for many things and are not as sharp as they used to be.  It HURT! I just could not bring myself to do it!  I needed another plan... something sharper!

A razorblade! Well, my tools are totally disorganized and disgusting so that ruled out a utility blade.  But, I had several brand new packs of disposable razors....

So I disassembled a disposable razor.  that is not as easy as it sounds.  I cut myself doing it, but I managed to get part of one of the blades free.  They are very small!  I could barely grip it, but I managed.  I soaked it in tincture first.  Then, I pulled up on the pin, stretching the skin and sliced right beneath it.  One side free! Easy, no pain!  I repositioned the blade and , slice!  there was that nasty tick head!!!  No bleeding! Burn that sucker!

That was 6 hours ago, no itching!  A little sore, but I attribute that to the pulling and the alcohol on the wound.  I have neosporin and a bandaid on it, and will change that twice daily until it is healed.

I apologize to my squeamish reader if you are sitting there with your hand over your mouth agape.  But, I hope this post might help others who find themselves in a situation with a stuck tick head. If you have a better method, please let me know!

Tick season is just starting here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Welcome Spring!

Oh boy, first day of spring!  The equinox was yesterday, but as the Willow and I were discussing this morning, that would probably count as day zero and this as day one!

We've had a long cold winter! 

I am glad that I tapped the maples over President's Day weekend.  We have been in the deep freeze since then.  A couple of days have cracked the freezing mark, but not enough to really get the sap flowing.  I have managed to eek out another gallon or two of sap by draining the small amounts out of the chunks of ice in the collecting jugs.

Two of the jugs I pulled off and brought in the house to thaw before I put them back on, and of course that ended up being one of the few days that the sap dripped a little bit!

I lost track of how much sap I have processed.  I think I started off with twelve gallons, plus a couple more.  I gave up trying to do it on the kitchen stove, and turned over one of my hot water pots on the woodstove  for sap reduction. I can put about a gallon and a half of sap in the pot.  Then of course by the time I want to go to bed, it is at a critical level.  Meaning, it will be burnt sugar by morning but too much to boil down on the kitchen stove before bed.  So, I usually just add another gallon of sap and go to bed.

I have to be careful though, because one year I kept doing that with a larger pot, and went to bed thinking it would be ok until morning, because there was several inches in it.  But I had lost track of how long I had been adding sap, and I woke up in the middle of the night to a house full of acrid smoke and two inches of black on the bottom of the pot.  Ugh.  I couldn't smell maple syrup for two years after that; the smell lingered for weeks in the house.

Yesterday morning we had had several inches of snow that turned to rain, what an icy floody mess!  Several of the animal houses were full of water because there was so much frozen snow the melt had no where to go.

The sap ran a little yesterday. I got two and a half gallons.   One tree had a half gallon of dark sap, and I would think some trickster had urinated in one of my jugs if I hadn't seen that in past years.  I don't know what causes it, but I set that one aside for now.

Today it is gorgeous out, a little windy perhaps, but well above freezing.  I have been stockpiling smaller pieces of firewood for the old kitchen woodstove that is outside.  Once I get buried in sap and have a nice day, I should have enough fuel to boil it down outside.

Right now I am trying to bake a chocolate Babka.  I had found this recipe online for chocolate doughnuts, which the Willow wanted instead of regular ones.  They are really awful!  It was 1/2 cup of cocoa to 8 cups of flour!  They look like a chocolate doughnut but are soooo bland!  And eight cups of flour! That made a lot of dough!  I fried off the first half and froze the other half.  Then I thawed it and tried a few more last night.  We even tried glazing them with chocolate chips and rolling them in sugar.  Uck!

So, I decided to take the rest of the dough and make a chocolate filling and bake it.

I think I should have added more sugar and still craving!

  I hope it's good I am starving!

Monday, March 17, 2014

A New Project

I certainly have enough half finished projects kicking around, so of course I decided to start a new one.

Perhaps inspired by watching the new Hunger Games moves, "Catching Fire" several times with the Willow (she's a huge fan).  The main character is proficient with a bow.  I had some small experience with archery as a teen, and started discussing some of the finer points with the Willow.

One night shortly afterwards, I was doodling around on the internet and thought I would do some research on bows.

I eventually found a webpage where a guy walks you through how to make your own out of an oak board and basic tools.  The site is called something like, poorfolksbow.

Well, I am not too close to a home improvement store, so I continued searching and found directions on how to make a recurve bow out of a sapling.

So, as soon as the sun was as high as it was going to get today, I headed out onto the property with Peko, my double bitted ax, and a small bow saw.

I thought it would be pretty simple to find the requisite 3" diameter oak, ash, or maple, with a clean straight length from the ground to the middle of my forehead.

I found one oak candidate but thought I might drop it on the power line, so I kept looking. I guess I should have been happy that it went below zero degrees F again last night, because the snow pack was like a brick so no floundering around in loose granular for us today.

In fact, the snow was so solid that once I gave up on the side and front lots and headed down over the ridge, I was worried I was going to slip and fall on the axe.  I already had one spill headed back from the poultry house early in the morning, walking and looking around for a likely bow tree. I wasn't watching my footing and next thing I knew, water jugs and grain went flying, me landing hard on one butt cheek and wrenching every thing above and below that point.

Right after I found the bow saw in the tool area I accidentally whacked myself in the temple with the handle (not the blade,thank goodness) and since I am familiar with the saying bad things happen in threes, I was trying to be careful.

I saw a few nice beech that fit the bill, but I hadn't read  that was a good kind for bow making, and I know from experience they can be very difficult to split, which is why I was avoiding Elm which was one of the kinds suggested.

I wandered down to the fairy glen and found an oak that had two smaller oaks growing on the same stump.  Right variety, right diameter, only both the smaller ones were bowed over from earlier storms.   Hhhm bowed.  I had an idea that I could split it with the bow in my favor, one side for a long bow and one for a recurve bow.

So I set to with the axe.  I was trying to get the most I could out of it, because there was a knobby bit right about top of my head height, so I was kneeling in the snow choked way up on axe handle, tap, tap tap.  Switch sides, tap tap tap, couple strokes with the rusty bow saw til it sticks, then the axe again.

I knew I was going to have a challenge on the back side, because the larger oak was nearly touching the base.  I had the idea to take the blade of the bow saw, and then put it on backwards with the tree between the blade and the handle.  That worked sweet!  In fact that was the easiest the saw has ever sawed!~

So, I felled the small bowed oak and then had to go back to the house for the handsaw to cut the top off the piece I wanted.  That went pretty well, too.

I headed up out of the woods with the 6 foot length of oak balanced on my shoulder and set it on the back step while I scrounged a broken axe head, a hammer, and a small chisel since I couldn't find my other chisel.

Then things got a little complicated.  Because I wanted to split it a certain way, with the curve of it, and sometimes I am just mechanically dyslexic.  And the darn thing get rolling and flopping on the deck while I was trying to eyeball the place and get the axe started . 

I finally got the axe to bite and was smacking it with the hammer trying to split it, and realized if I stood it up and stood on the deck it would go easier.  When I stood it up I realized that I was splitting it the wrong way.  Grrr.

Well, thank good I had left the knobby bit on the top end, because that was making splitting it a touch job, and I hadn't gotten very far.  Only an inch or two had started to crack, so I picked up the handsaw again and sawed that bit off and started again.

That went a lot smoother, in a few minutes I had split the length and had two pieces of oak.  One was thicker than the other, though.

After Peko and I took our walk and met the Firebird, I brought the smaller one in to my perch on the milkcrate by the woodstove because the temps were getting pretty chilly outside.  I dug out my drawknife and started peeling the bark.  I like doing that part.  In a short amount of time I had made a huge pile of curly bark shavings at my feet, on my afghani socks, and all over my lap.  I just noticed I also nicked my jeans and made a small tear.  grrr one of my better pair that actually fit, too.  oh well.

The next step was to glue or plastic wrap the ends and tie the wood to a piece of metal like a bed frame.  I slapped some ELmer's on the ends and wrapped them with wrap for good measure (I feel like I may regret that later)

I just happened to have a metal bed rail under the house, so I crawled under and grabbed that and looked in vain for another one, because I have two pieces of oak.  No luck.

Well, you know how these instructions go, "tie the oak to the metal, ends first, then run a block of wood under to flex the wood, then tie the middle down."

Sounds simple enough. 

  Well, I HAD to pick a piece of bowed wood.  Yeah.  HAHAHA I started by wiring the ends to the rail, and then tried to bring the middle in.  The wire stretched.  The rail kept rolling trying to crush my fingers.  I tried having the Firebird stand on it while I wired it, but I could not get the wire tight enough.

I finally gave up , un tied it, turned it flat side down (the directions said tie flat side out) tied the middle first and then forced each end in, and even resorted to the infamous duct tape.  I felt sort of like a sicko tying up a struggling captive. 

I think I have it well enough that when I get to tapering the ends it will work out.  I didn't mention that after I peeled it, for some reason the bow was side to side and not front to back.  So I don't know what happened there.  If it had been front to back like it was supposed to, it would have been much easier to get it down on the rail, but curved the other way it was very difficult.

So now I am going to go out and get piece number two, the fat Momma, and see how that one goes.  I guess I am going to tie it or tape it to the same rail since I could only find one rail.  I do have a crib rail outside wired to a not in use temporary goat shelter, but it is only about three feet long.

I'll see how this piece comes out and then decide. I don't want it to dry out and crack now that it is split.

Then I have to wait two weeks for them to dry, but in the meantime I will need to make a bow tiller, which I am excited to see how that will go.  The tillering of the bows, not the making of the bow tiller.

  I do wish I had better wood than that bowed piece, because it is not totally clear either.  I found a couple small black knots and am hoping they don't make weak places in the bows.  But, I don't expect to make a perfect first bow anyhow.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cabin Fever

The days start to blur together like my vision at the end of the day as I peer blearily at yet another page of some random novel as the light fades to gloom.

Those big January projects that have accumulated for years spend another winter neglected as I crouch in front of the ancient woodstove shovelling more damp wood and huffing another cigarette while trying not to ignite the latest paperback in the other hand.

The laptop has even taken up a semi permanent home a mere two feet away from the stove, waiting for pages to load on a backwoods dialup connection, kept company by a teetering stack of disintergrating cookbooks.

Butter for that days baked goods softening on the shelf behind the stove-bread, cornbread, peanut butter cookies, scones, oatmeal cookies with dates or raisins, sugar cookies. The creeping cold creating havoc with the metabolism, causing cravings for carbs, sugars and fat to remain unfullfilled no matter the volume.

Finally last week a few days cracked the freezing mark, and I emerged with the 100 foot cord and the power drill to spend several hours putting 12 taps into the nearest sugar maples.  The trees took advantage of the break in the weather, too, and every empty jug suddenly became filled with beautiful clear maple sap.  I started burying jugs of sap in the huge snow banks, no way could I keep up.  I spent two days and eight hours reducing four gallons of sap on the gas kitchen stove, the house smelling of sweet sugar.  We promptly devoured half the hot syrup on a double batch of homemade griddle cakes, mixed with jumbo fresh eggs from last spring's chics, now just starting to lay with efficiency.

All good things come to an end, another twist in the jet stream has plunged our lows around 0F and our highs won't top freezing for the foreseeable future.  The sap is frozen solid in the buried jugs, frozen in the collecting buckets, and frozen mid drip in the taps.

Even afterschool sports have come to an end for the Firebird, who participated in indoor track this winter, his first.  I think his teammates that had encouraged him to join were kicking themselves after he beat their times in high hurdles and their distances in long jump.  He qualified in all three of his events for regionals and placed well, but not enough to qualify for states. Still an amazing performance and quite an athlete.

So now he is riding the bus home in the aternoons. Not really home, since the bus drops him off a half mile down the road.  I decided that Peko and I could use the exercise to work off some of those accumulated cookies, and started hustling out the door to meet the Firebird at the end of the road.

The first day Peko and I were trucking along, well not really trucking.  Peko came to us housebroken but not exactly leash trained.  His idea of a walk has me at a half jog, until he finds somewhere interesting to sniff, and then we come to a screeching half while he manages to squeeze two or three drops of urine on whatever it was he finds worth smelling for three minutes. Then we're off again.

On this particular afternoon, we were well along the wild wood zone.  We have two neighbors between us and the end of the road- one practically next door and the other at the end of the road.  The rest of the stretch is home to the turkeys and rabbits and deer and moose and squirrels and the occasional bobcat or coyote or fox- if they have managed to escaped the locals that like to run them down with dogs.

We have very little traffic, and it is not usual to make the walk up and back without encountering any vehicles on the road.  Anyhow, I spotted a silver SUV coming towards us, and I thought it was the near neighbor, an nice older lady that I had been meaning to visit.  I peered nearsightedly at the windshield as the vehicle approached, and at the last second I realized that it was, in fact, not my neighbor, but some good-looking young man that appeared half my age. My eyes went back forward and the mismatched battered work glove on my left hand came up in the standard, "Hello stranger, I see you" greeting that I employ in such cases.

The SUV passed, and Peko and I kept going, me half jogging and stopping and proceeding until several 'have to drip pee on this spots' later, I thought I heard an aircraft overhead.  So while Peko was sniffing and trying to summon forth the obligatory drop of urine, I swiveled my head like a turkey in a rainstorm trying to locate the source of the sound.

Then I spied the silver SUV coming back towards us.  In the intervening span since it had initially passed I had realized my personal appearance.  I was wearing a pair of size 12 Kamik snow boots of the Firebird's that were so large I had to put on a pair of afghani slipper socks to keep my feet from sliding around in them.  I had on a pair of jeans I had been basically living in.  The aforementioned mismatched tattered leather work gloves.  Several rattie hoodies topped with an old navy blue goose down nylon snowcoat, which had suffered enormously from contact with bits of pasture fencing and was shedding feathers and down like a goose caught in a weedwhacker.  And my hair hadn't seen a comb and I think my head must have resembled the fur on an orange persian cat that got too friendly with the strand of christmas tree lights.

So I did what any self respecting woman would do in such circumstances, I stuffed the unruly mess of hair into one of the battered hoodies, wiped the drip forming on the end of my nose on the back of one of my gloves, turned an about face, gave Peko a yank. and kept going.

It seemed forever for the SUV to come up behind us, perhaps I was really building momentum in my horror of the situation.  I could suddenly hear the bass speakers thrumping along, and as the vehicle came abreast I hazarded a look out of the corner of my eye to see the passenger window half down and the driver leaning over.

Then I heard the music.  LEd Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Love, Robert Plant in the midst of belting out, "I just wanna make LOOOOOOVVVEEE to you!"

Well, the driver must have got a good look at my face, perhaps it was my smirk or maybe I had cookie crumbs stuck to the snot on the end of my nose, but he then accelerated to the end of the road and turned left.

I guess Cabin fever only goes so deep in February.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Happy Birthday

Funny, the Willow just looked over my shoulder and asked, "why are you on google docs?"

Because since the resumption of the school year, I have become aware of the fact that everything a child in the public school system does is part of the google enterprise, or the apple enterprise.
.docs on the Ipad.
and of course the privacy notice states that those companies can do whatever they want with the information.

Which is one of the reasons that I have become unreasonably quiet online.

But, give me enough dandelion wine and I can still recall a password and a place to run my mouth.

Dandelions picked at the height of spring, on hands and knees observed by a herd of thirty cashmere goats, their seconds.

For although the field at a distance was blaze of golden yellow, on closer inspection the blossoms were average size, the goats having taken the top choice blossoms as soon as they opened.

I think my shoulders got sunburned that day, as I crept along with the the dreaded plastic shopping bag, snap, snap, snap, the goats a few dozen yards away on the knoll chewing their own morning's accumulations of blossoms.

I may have stripped down to a bra, but can't recall as I was caught in the moment, snap, snap snap...

I hustled the blossoms home, already starting to wilt in the heat, and put them on the stove with fresh drawn spring water, orange and lemon zest and juice...blond raisins, heck, a little of this, a little of that, I tend to be a cook that flies by the seat of her pants or the cup of her bra as it were in the height of the spring solstice...

I converted gallon water jugs by melting a hole in the cap that fit the of my knife steeles was the proper diameter after a few trial runs with various screwdrivers over the propane burner.

and they sat on the shelf for several weeks and then were racked, or siphoned off and re-jugged and topped off with more spring water...and eventually bottled in sanitized beer bottles for the winter solstice.

when they were passed out as gifts to a select few- although bottled a little late they were not quite ready at the solstice.

But now, a month later, it is summer and spring in a bottle, clear and sweet and intoxicating.

Polar vortex I moon you with my bottle of springtime,

last week we had a bit of a warming trend, a few days above freezing, and I took the opportunity to get 3-1.2 gallons of birthday beer on the brew,  3 pounds of amber malt, about a pound of corn sugar, a pound of dark crystal malt for the boil.,.1/2 ounce of goldings hops for the boil, the other half ounce for the ferment,

Huddled around the second floor stovepipe with a scabbed hot water jacket and some aluuminum flashing
(my place is cold in the winter for brewing an ale)

took off like a bast***** racked and bottled in six days and could have done it on day four..

and hoping that the prime completes in a week.

because it is called "birthday beer" and I plan on cracking it within a week.

because the dandelion wine is going fast...


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Putting stuff by

Well. Lots has been going on, more than usual, and I was lucky to remember my password since I seem to have misplaced my cheat sheetwhile  swapping rooms with the Willow.

Tonia, if you're still reading this, I haven't been able to post comments on your blog, but I love your posts!  Your last one on the cayenne tincture with apple cider vinegar was very interesting!

I just started playing with tinctures this year.

I had a huge patch of Motherwort that I got sick of last year and tried to eradicate.  Then I realized I could be making tinctures out of it which is good for hysterical complaints, stress, and toning feminine parts such as easing cramping.

I used 100 proof vodka-stuffed several jars full of Motherwort and topped off with the vodka.  I shook it whenever I rememebered but it has since been pushed back in the pantry and is ready to strain and bottle!

A friend picked up 2 dozen brown tincture bottles with droppers so I just have to get a plastic funnel and a stainless strainer to put it away.

I also put up Yarrow tincture which I have used already. The Willow came complaining of a spider bite on the top of her foot, and I dipped some Q tips in the tincture and applied to the bite. She howled and said it stung, but it took care of the itching and swelling.

Or, she didnt' dare complain again. ;)

I infused some mullein flowers in olive oil for earachesl

I harvested herbs like mad this year, and have put a lot away in zip lock bags instead of leaving it hanging from the rafters all winter,. I hope to transfer them to glass jars now they have cured.,  Coltsfoot, mullein, lemon balm, oregano, margoram, heal all, spearmint, catnip, yarrow....

The Firebird had the unwelcome task of pulling yarrow from the farm field, and I had him bring several giant bags full home, most of which I never attended to and ended up composting. But I have a large amount still hanging from the rafters; which I plan on making Yarrow Beer and saving the rest for tea.

I just unbottled all my blackberry juice, since it was too heavy on honey, and tossed in some champagne yeast, hoping to get some blackberry wine.

I simmered the few elderberries I had on the property to make a "rob" and look forward to sipping on that in a cup of hot water in the throes of winter.

I put up several jars of zucchini pickles and relish from the monster zucchini I keep forgetting to pick.

I decided not to waste our tomatoes this year, and tried to can 5 pints this afternoon.  One didn't seal, and one jar broke. Grrr. 69 cents a can at the store, they really don't want people fending for themselves because after all that work and the cost of the gas and the jars and the seedlings...that was about 10 dollars a pint.

A dozen pepper plants have so far yielded two ripe chili peppers which went into the zucchini relish.

I have a ton of greens, turnip, collards, mustard, and I am going to try and make kimchi. Fermented greens.  I am just waiting for the weather to cool down a little more.  I won't be canning that, since the heat destroys the good bacteria.  I don't want to dig a hole and bury it, as is traditional, since I don't think I will feel like digging it up again.  So I still have to figure out what to do with it if I make it.

Carrots failed, spinach failed, beets failed,cukes failed, morning glories failed.  The purple beans did well, but I stopped harvesting them because I want to save the seed for next year.  The two packets of green bean seed yielded two bean plants, one of which produced four beans the other two beans.  I am going to save the seed for next year.  They are in another part of the property from the purple so I hope to have two varieties for next year.

I had lots of extra 8 ounce jelly jars, so I bought 6 pounds of butter and canned that. I found a recipe online.  6 pounds made 15 8 ounce jars.  You sterilize your jars and lids as usual, bring the butter up to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, jar it, and when they ping shake every few minutes until cool, then stick in the fridge and shake every 5 minutes until hard and it will keep on the shelf a long time. Just make sure to wait until they ping, which miss impatient here did not do.

I pushed the lids down, thought that was good, and shook to have them squirt hot melted butter all over me.  They ended up good anyhow, all sealed ok, but a couple are not as full as when I started. 

Mugli the kitten was quite happy to lick the pan and clean up the overflow.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


My earliest memories of Blackberries date back to the winter I was 11 years old.

We didn't get a lot of snow where I grew up, so sledding opportunities were rare and relished.

One early dusting of snow some kids at my elementary school took advantage of some scrap cardboard and a small hill on the school grounds to make a muddy mess of themselves.

The school grounds bordered on some private woodland which in turn bordered on a very large parkland.

Just outside the chain link fence bordering the baseball diamond the ground slopped rather sharply into the borders of the woods and the base of a tiny stream.

That particular winter, I redevouzed with some classmates from the neighborhood with our metal runner sleds.

The location wasn't ideal- some pricker bushes at the bottom had be be avoided or risk a slash across the face.

We watched enviously as a pair of older sledders recovered an old v-shaped car hood from the woods, and flew down the hill several times before abandoning the hood at the bottom of the hill.

More than 5 adolescent girls could resist, good thing, since it took all of us slipping and sliding and tugging to get the thing to the top of the hill.

We all piled in, myself dead center up front in the V, on girl in the back wisely bailed off before we were halfway down...

Because, it order to avoid the pricker bushes, we ended up heading for the stream, and we shot out over the top of it to land in a blowdown across it....a very sudden stop which scar I still bear today across the bridge of my nose which hit the edge of the hood on impact.

Fast forward six months, same location, midsummer, just myself and the family dog, I stumbled across a mass of juicy purple berries.

Having been warned by my mother to have anything ID'd by her before tasting (although learning that nightshade and daffodil were poisonous didn't stop me from tasting them-and it was easy to see why they were poisonous because they tasted sooo nasty!)

"Blackberries," said my mother.

"Are there many more there?"

"Oh yes, lots," I replied.

She put up almost 40 jars of jelly out of what we picked that year.

I was a very fussy eater, but I knew I loved blackberry jelly.

A couple of years ago I learned of a good place to get blackberries.

Folks don't go wild harvesting blackberries too often.  That year I was 11, I was living in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area, and no one else gave a hoot about those blackberries we found. (you'll see why in a minute)

A friend clued me on this patch.  A rock quarry. 

The quarry has been very quiet this summer, and once I saw a patch of berries ripening on my road I couldn't resist going on a berry hunt.

Willow and I went about high noon for an hour and a half. and picked two gallon jugs nearly full.

I processed one batch of of jelly that night.

The next afternoon I went alone.  I saw a pretty good patch and all I had to do was step in on a rock, which was a bit slanted.

Well, I slid off the rock down into I don't know what-I am in a quarry so there are some nice scoops of earth missing..

and I was saved by the blackberries! three or four good sized canes grabbed my arms and legs and just sort of hung me up there...

I disentangled myself and continued picking...realized the poison ivy liked the blackberry patches on that side.

Circled back up to the high ground and down the other  picking one side and saving the other side for the return trip.

This is what I looked like when I got home:

and this is what I ended up with...

6 jars of jammy; 1 liter plus of syrup; 6 bottles plus 2 quarts of juice extracted from the seeds and pulp...

and nearly flayed alive, looking like I was attacked by a trio of bobcats.

But., worth it, here's some of the benefits of blackberries:

"Blackberries Nutrition Facts"

When the plant antioxidant story became public a few years ago, one of the first fruits to rise to the top of the ORAC charts was the blackberry (Rubus ursinus).

A member of the rose family (Rosacea) and Rubus species of brambleberries (also called "caneberries"), the blackberry has become one of Oregon's most important fruit exports. Blackberries have an exotic nature to them perpetuated by the culinary fame of the famous Marionberry, a species of blackberry first bred from two cultivars of the Evergreen blackberry in Oregon's Willamette River Valley, Marion County. Marionberries have exceptional shape, aroma and taste that make them a worldwide favorite of gourmet chefs and specialty food manufacturers, paving the way for common use of brambleberries in today's kitchens.

Drooping with drupelets of goodness

As with other Rubus species, blackberries have a unique structure that actually contributes to their nutritional value — it is an "aggregate fruit" composed of many individual drupelets, each like a small berry with one seed, surrounding a firm core called the receptacle. These individual drupelets contribute extra skin, seeds and pectin with dietary fiber value to the nutritional content of blackberries, making it among the highest fiber content plants known.

Where do blackberries grow and what characteristics do the berries have?

Blackberries grow wild and are cultivated in temperate zones from the mid-south US to near-Arctic latitudes of northern Canada and are cultivated mainly in northern US states, particularly Oregon and Washington State, and southern British Columbia. Blackberries are commercially grown on every temperate continent, including Africa and Asia.

Marionberries are the most widely cultivated blackberry specie in the world, especially favored as a popular fruit crop in many countries of Europe. Russia, Germany and Poland are major producers of blackberries. The state of Oregon harvests some 33 million pounds of blackberries each year, whereas the worldwide production is close to 1 billion pounds.

A tasty and long defensive history

The genus Rubus contains over 740 species as perennial, deciduous, woody shrubs with long vines ("brambles" up to 20 ft long) covered by firm thorns that made blackberry brambles useful as a defensive barrier along English land borders during the 16th century.

Rubus also includes roses and diverse other major fruits, including strawberries, apples, pears and peaches. While it may be difficult to see common characteristics among such diverse fruits and the blackberry, there is one important botanical similarity: the flower. All these Rubus plants typically have 5-7 white/pink petals around a central cluster of yellow stamens.

What is a "bramble" and is this the same as a "cane"?

A bramble is any plant belonging to the genus Rubus, of which the most commonly known — and enjoyed — are the red or black raspberry and blackberry, each having numerous hybrids. There are also some cross-cultivars between the red raspberry and blackberry, such as the boysenberry and loganberry.

Saying "bramble" is just a simple way to say "raspberries, blackberries, and related berry plants with thorny vines". Mainly in Oregon, these fruits are also called "caneberries" because they grow on woody bramble stems called canes.

What is it about blackberries that consumers most like?
Known as the "cabernet" of berries for their earthy, wine-like taste, blackberries are an easy and healthy addition to anyone's diet. This fruit has multiple macronutrients — high dietary fiber (up to 20% by weight), carbohydrates, heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats (especially in its numerous chewable seeds), low overall fat content (<1 a="" and="" antioxidants="" are="" blackberries="" br="" calcium.="" combined="" good="" high="" levels="" micronutrient="" minerals.="" of="" particularly="" potassium="" protein="" source="" vitamin="" vitamins="" with="">
Rich in antioxidant vitamins A and C

Possibly the most promising benefit from consuming blackberries is their substantial quantity of phenolic acids which are antioxidant compounds known as potent anti-carcinogenic agents, as well as having numerous other potential health benefits.

Phenolics in blackberries include anthocyanins, ellagic acid, rutin, gallic acid, hydrocaffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and cinnamic acid, plus excellent contents of the antioxidant vitamins A and C.

Nutritious blackberries are a great addition to recipes or as a healthy fresh snack by the handful. Blackberries don't have to be fresh to be nutritious, as quick-frozen and canned berries retain most of the fresh fruit qualities.

Flash freezing, which is used to make IQF (immediately quick frozen) blackberries, helps trap nutrients and plant chemicals soon after harvest and provides for a healthier fruit. Increasingly seen in whole foods stores across the US and Canada, blackberries (especially Marionberries) can be purchased frozen in one pound bags year round.

What is the antioxidant strength of blackberries and what chemicals account for it?

Due to their rich contents of the phenolics mentioned above, blackberries have an ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of about 5350 per 100 grams, making them near the top of ORAC fruits. Cranberries and wild blueberries have around 9350 ORAC units, black raspberries about 12,000 and apples average 3100.

History of uses and folklore

Because blackberries have grown in Europe for thousands of years and were in use by native Americans when the US and Canadian West was opened, historical practices and folklore have survived on both sides of the Atlantic.

European blackberry juice was used to treat infections of the mouth and eyes until the 16th century. In the Pacific Northwest, the powdered bark of blackberry brambles was used for toothache relief. A tea made from blackberry leaves is said to aid digestion or arrest vomiting according to First Nations tribes in Washington State and British Columbia. Blackberry root concoctions have been used to remedy dysentery.

Blackberries contain relatively high quantities of ellagic acid, tannins and cyanidin glycosides. These are antioxidant phenolics that have a wide range of potential health benefits under current research.

What does medical research say about the health properties of blackberries?

The following anti-disease properties have been isolated in experimental models during studies specifically on blackberries. With their close relatives — red or black raspberry and boysenberry — medical research among all the Rubus species likely applies to one another. Accordingly, see this section in other essays on the red raspberry and black raspberry.

Although there are no clinical studies to date proving these effects below in humans, medical research shows likely benefit of regularly consuming blackberries against:

pleurisy and lung inflammation

anti-thrombosis (inhibition of blood clotting)

several types of cancer

endotoxin shock

cardiovascular diseases


age-related cognitive decline.
About The Author:
Dr. Paul Gross is a scientist and expert on cardiovascular and brain physiology. A published researcher, Gross recently completed a book on the Chinese wolfberry and has begun another on antioxidant berries. Gross is founder of Berry Health Inc, a developer of nutritional, berry-based supplements. For more information, visit