Monday, September 11, 2017

Visiting a very fancy swamp

Okay, technically it's a marsh -- swamps are populated with woody plants (mangrove, etc.) while marshes are populated with other plants. While there were no trees here (sigh. Swamp trees are so cool) there were plenty of beautiful marsh plants.

As a warning to any friends who feel uneasy looking at pictures of holes, there is a photo or two of some lotus seed pods.

[caption id="attachment_3818" align="aligncenter" width="514"] Including loads of water lilies![/caption]


My favorite part was the vast swathe of lotuses. Most of them were no longer blooming -- we were lucky to be able to get close to a few that were. The majority were green pods, waiting to dry and release their hard little seeds. Lotuses are extremely hydrophobic, and will do anything they can to avoid growing into the mud and water that houses their roots. The end result is a field of enormous, saucerlike lotus leaves on stalks as tall as a grown man, odd seed pods, and bright pink flowers rustling in the breeze. It makes for a very striking sight, and one that's not really adequately captured with a camera.

Most of the pods were still green and fleshy when we saw them, not yet shriveled up enough for their seeds to fall.

There was also an abundance of rosemallows, and lily pads the size of manhole covers. All around, the air was alive with a chorus of chirping insects and the faint wingbeats of bright blue dragonflies. There were mushrooms almost everywhere we looked, too -- from big, fleshy chicken-of-the-woods, to little pinkgills almost eclipsed by the grass surrounding them.

We didn't have enough time for a thorough exploration, so we're saving the river trail for next time. I'd really like to go back and record some nature sounds for meditative purposes (maybe layer them with some binaural beats?) and maybe some video of the marsh and river itself.

Have you been doing any exploration lately? What have you found?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

I'm on a serious mushroom kick

How do you work with something that doesn't have a lot of traditional metaphysical information behind it? I've looked, but, beyond a few words on fairy rings (don't go in 'em) and psilocybes (don't eat 'em), there hasn't been enough to satisfy the insatiable mushroom kick I've been on lately. I want to read about them, work with them, eat them, and save them in tiny jars. I want all of the mushroom things!

I think it started when I spotted these guys (and what's probably the most cursed dog park sign ever. Seriously, woe be to the dog who tries to lift a leg on something in the middle of this mess).

[caption id="attachment_3797" align="aligncenter" width="570"] It's a big 'un, too.[/caption]

Ever since then, I've been spotting the raddest mushrooms. My Instagram's been chock-full of all of the awesome plant and fungi photos my S.O. and I have been snapping, I love it. Finding and photographing them gave me the itch to start identifying them, and I've been caught up in a mycological fascination ever since.

Like, check these little fuzzy boys out (I think they're a type of Entoloma):

And here's a pale chicken-of-the-woods, which is supposedly as delicious as it is weird-looking:

And here's some honey fungus, which nobody seems to be able to agree on the edibility of. Half of my sources say
"Cut the caps off and cook them in butter!" while the other half say "Not unless you basically want to poop yourself to death":

The edibility of mushrooms is something I don't often have to worry about -- I've never liked them much, save for raw white button mushrooms sliced in salads. The more I learn about them, though, the more curious I am to eat them (especially the varieties that supposedly taste like crab legs). I've even been having an inexplicable desire for portobello burgers.

Though witchcraft and modern paganism is known for being pretty heavy on the use of herbs, I haven't been able to find much on the use or magickal associations of mushrooms. Sure, some psilocybes are used in a ritual context to trigger shamanic states and induce visions, but what about the humble guys? Plenty of them have medicinal value, too -- even cordyceps, which is probably best known as the fungus that turns bugs into something by David Lynch.

[caption id="attachment_3788" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Photo by Erich G. Vallery. CC BY 3.0[/caption]

Thus far, I haven't really found much. Fairies dance in fairy rings, and entering one can lead to great misfortune. Fly agaric is thought to be one of the ingredients in flying ointment, due to its psychotropic properties. On one hand, this is frustrating -- it can be tricky to develop a working relationship with an herb, animal, or other entity with nothing to really go on. On the other, it's exciting -- there's plenty to discover.

I'd also like to get into preserving mycological specimens as curiosities. I come across some really interesting ones, and I'd love to keep a sample of their fruiting bodies. Supposedly impregnating them with silicone is the best way to keep their shapes and colors intact, but that involves a lot of specialized chemicals and equipment I don't have access to. I'm afraid alcohol might cause them to lose some of their coloration or texture (some of the most interesting things about them, in my opinion), so that's out. Would vegetable glycerin work? I'm thinking I might pick up a couple of white button mushrooms and glycerin from the grocery store, sterilize a jar, and find out.

In the meantime, I'll be here with my fungi identification guides and a black truffle pizza.

P.S.: Looking to identify some fungi? This widget is pretty neat (just don't use it to determine whether or not you should eat them).

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Inside an 18th Century Apothecary

My birthday happened this past Friday, and we did a lot to celebrate -- a visit to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, cupcakes from Lavender Moon Cupcakery (try the Boston Cream!), and a quick trip to Sacred Circle metaphysical shop to re-stock on some herbs. It was a ton of fun, and I highly recommend taking the Apothecary Museum tour if you're ever in the area. It's about $5, only a half hour long, and very informative, and the building itself is really neat and strikingly well-preserved! A word of caution, though: there are some steep stairs. I managed them alright, but be careful if you have balance or mobility issues.

[caption id="attachment_3777" align="aligncenter" width="513"] The gold labels have held up so well because they're actually reverse-painted on glass. Bottles and jars with paper labels don't look nearly as good after decades upon decades of use.[/caption]

My favorite part was the production room upstairs. The herb cabinets were to die for (and I think I just about have my S.O. convinced that investing in an apothecary chest is a sound decision), and the old implements were fascinating to see. It seems like a bit of a no-brainer in retrospect, but I honestly didn't know that things like pill cutters or pill tumblers existed. I usually get my herbs in salve, tea, or tincture form, so I never really put much thought into how you'd make them into a pill!

Back before the days of easy-to-swallow gelatin capsules, the apothecary would roll a paste made of herbs and binding agents into a sort of clay snake, then roll a pill cutter over it to form evenly-sized slices. These would then be put into a pill tumbler to be coated in sugar or other agents to make them easier to take. The implements were really ingenious, from a quality-assuring and labor-saving perspective.

[caption id="attachment_3778" align="aligncenter" width="514"] In the rear and to the right, just above the yellowish bottle, you can see the pill tumbler. In the back, you can see the apothecary's herb cabinets. There were enough to line all of the walls of the production room, it was a pretty awe-inspiring collection![/caption]

I also blame my lack of actual apothecary knowledge on watching The Princess Bride too often during my formative years.

[caption id="attachment_3779" align="aligncenter" width="513"] "The chocolate coating makes it go down easier."[/caption]

I picked up a copy of Medicinal Plants of North America, which I'm really looking forward to reading. I'll probably do a quick review of it when I'm done, so keep your eyes peeled if you're interested in medicinal foraging field guides!