Sunday, I gathered and dehydrated a half pound of English Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) leaves. The plant can be easily missed as it often grows inconspicuously among grasses, but the distinct flower stalks are helpful pointers to the clusters of narrow basal leaves.
Some people eat the young leaves of this plant, but I've typically found them too strong for my taste. Instead, I use this plant as medicine. I'll chew up a leaf or two to get their juices flowing, then apply them as a poultice on bug bites and stings, and minor cuts. I've found plantain often provides quick pain relief.
Having some dried leaves on hand will allow me to utilize this medicine even in the off-season. Several years ago, one of the first plant-based medicines I made was a healing salve which included olive oil infused with purchased plantain leaves. Perhaps I'll make a fresh salve this year with some of the leaves I dehydrated.
Last week, I prepared a tincture of pine pollen cones. Here's the procedure I followed: I filled a quart glass jar with the cones, then filled that jar again (that's right, I filled the jar twice!) with 80 proof vodka. Then I covered, shook, and labeled the jar. In about a month, I'll strain out the cones and be left with the finished liquid extract.
Tinctures are a convenient way to concentrate and preserve plant constituents. Soaking in vodka allows both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble constituents to be extracted from the cones. Pine pollen tinctures can be purchased (SurThrival is one source), but making one is a simple enough process, so long as you manage to collect your own cones. If you missed this year's harvest, mark your calendars now for next spring.
I spent the afternoon gathering the edible (and medicinal) pollen cones of Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). I visited a special grove of large pines which had some branches low enough to reach and were absolutely laden with bright yellow cones at the perfect stage of growth for foraging.
In just a few days, many of the cones will start to release their pollen. Rather than trying to capture the pollen itself, I harvested the entire pollen bearing cones prior to their opening.
Most people are familiar with the female seed-bearing cones of this tree. But the tree also has these yellow male pollen-bearing cones, which are smaller and easier to overlook.
Because the cones are tedious to pick individually, I snapped off entire branchlets containing tender stalks, young needles at the tips, and the yellow cones.
Later, I removed the cones by pinching the young needles with one hand and stripping the cones with my other hand. It took a bit of practice, but after a hundred or so, I'd found a rhythm. With the cones removed, I had a pile of pine discards to gift to my garden.
Below is just a small handful of the end result. I nearly filled a one gallon bag which I've placed in the freezer. I'll add them to meals over the next few weeks and probably tincture some of the cones for medicine.
To learn about the many health benefits of pine pollen, check out these videos from Arthur Haines: The Protective Benefits of Pine Pollen (part 1 & part 2). Arthur also covers Eastern White Pine is his foraging book, Ancestral Plants.
If you missed this year's pine pollen crop, you can purchase high quality pine pollen products from SurThrival.
Update: In 2013, I gathered Pitch Pine pollen cones.