Recipes from the Toketee Homestead

This season the Diamond Lake Botany Crew and I collected a little bit less than 300lbs of fruit! We plan on taking our first trip to the Bend Seed Extractory this Thursday (9/28) to deliver our collections for cleaning. Our collections included Sambucus cerulea (Blue elderberry), Prunus emarginata (Bitter cherry), Rubus parviflorus (Thimbleberry), and Sorbus scopulina (Mountain ash)…

Bitter cherry (left) and Blue elderberry (right)
A good berry year! Most of the trees we collected from were weighted down with ripe fruit like this one!

While the crew and I were busy making collections for CBG during the week, I was able to spend a few weekends picking fruits for myself! Earlier in the season I spent a day collecting some of the smaller, native blackberries located in the Forest. I cooked them down that same day, making a syrup for easy storage. This past weekend I finally got my hands on some pectin, took my stored blackberry syrup, and made jelly! While picking enough of the smaller blackberries to make jelly was a labor of love, it was absolutely worth it! I can now take a little taste of Oregon back home with me to Alabama.

Additionally, I foraged for elderberries and also made a nice elderberry syrup with local honey in preparation for the colder months. (Just in time too! The high for Toketee this week is a rainy 53degrees. Brrrrr.) In recent years, elderberry syrup has gained popularity. These days, you can find it in just about any grocery store or pharmacy. However, elderberry syrup has been used in folk medication for hundreds of years! The syrup is known and still used today as a strong cold preventative and remedy. One cup of berries contains around 58% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. Similar to blueberries, elderberries are also a great source of antioxidants.

Below I have the recipes I used to make my elderberry syrup!

Elderberry Syrup

Ingredients Needed (1 Batch)

  • 3/4 cup of dried Elderberries – I picked my own but you can order dehydrated elderberries online.
  • 1 cup of Raw Local Honey – Honey that has been filtered goes through a heating and cooling process. A majority of the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are killed by the high heat, negating many of the health advantages of raw honey. Additionally, raw, local honey can also shield you from seasonal allergies by gradually exposing you to local pollens until you become used to them.
  • 2-3 Cinnamon Sticks (Optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of shredded Fresh Ginger (Optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of ground Cloves (Optional)
  • 1/2 cup of dried Rose Hips (Optional)
  • 3 1/2 cups of Water – I used filtered water

Equipment Needed

  • Cheesecloth, small mesh colander, and/or juicer
  • Saucepan
  • Spoon or masher
  • Container/jar for storage
  1. With the exception of the honey, combine all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat to a rolling boil. For my syrup, I only added shredded ginger root and cinnamon sticks.
  2. When the boil starts, reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes stirring occasionally.
  3. Turn off the heat and allow the product to cool for about 30 minutes before handling it.
  4. Take out the cinnamon sticks and use a spoon or masher to crush the mixture.
  5. Squeeze through cheesecloth or pass through a fine mesh filter.
  6. Add 1 cup of honey to the juice it produces.
  7. For up to a few months, keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Take a teaspoon per day or as desired. I usually take 4-5 spoonfuls a week!

*Elderberry syrup is not a guaranteed “cure all”. I believe that paired with a healthy lifestyle it does boost your immune system and when taken early enough, can reduce the symptoms of a cold! With any folk or traditional medicine, appropriate expectations are required. Again, if you are eating McDonalds everyday, never engaging in any forms of exercise, stay chronically dehydrated, get terrible rest, etc. then yes, I doubt a homemade remedy will help you.

Lessons in Seed Collecting

During my time in the Umpqua, I have learned a lot about the nature of seed and seed collection. As something that I had never really given much thought to before, I have picked up on quite a few things regarding the matter. Though not extensive or something that can possibly be used across the board, I caught myself this last month making a mental rule book for the dos and don’ts of seed collection. Noting the things that nature had to teach me, I learned along the way what was easiest, the best, or sometimes the worst way to go about a process.

1. Never force seed. One thing that has stuck out to me the most, and should perhaps have been the most obvious idea, is that that seed will freely give itself to you when it is ready. It’s the whole purpose and the thing it wants to do the most – be released in its time of maturity. So when walking up to a plant, I now take note of how easily the seed gives itself up to me. Do I have to force it off of the plant? Or if I move too quick, accidentally bumping the plant, am I in trouble of losing my collection because it has sprung away at the smallest of encounters. If so, chances are I can pass go and collect my $200… after a trusty cut test of course.

// note – I wouldn’t necessarily think of berries and fruits in this way.

2. Following that thought, I move on to lesson number two: Be careful where you tread and grab. The number of times that I have lost the seed that I was reaching for simply because I moved too quick, missing what I was reaching for or accidentally bumped a plant with my leg… embarrassing. Springy seed pods, such as the Aquilegia formosa, will have you flying seed halfway across your work area with the smallest of movements. While not all seed is positioned for a great launching, those that are require patience and precise work – and maybe a little less shaking from drinking too much coffee in the morning.

Gilia capitata – the springiest of springy seed

3. Avoid spiderwebs. Not necessarily a hill I’m willing to die on, but I can think of a few reasons to avoid spiderwebs. First, because of spiders, duh. The last thing I want to do is reach for a handful of material and have a spider or its web in my hand. Yuck. I don’t like it. I don’t want it. No thanks. Second, webs catch things. Mostly bugs, but sometimes other things too like seeds. Here in the Umpqua, one of our most treated non-native invasive species has a wispy seed comparable to that of a dandelion. There have been a few times that I have noticed these fluffy seeds caught in a spider’s web. For me, collecting spider webs full of other, perhaps unfriendly seeds is not worth it so I avoid it altogether.

Anaphalis margaritacea // Pearly Everlasting
Fluffy Anaphalis margaritacea seed up close.

4. South facing vs. north facing. Thanks to rocking climbing I knew that any rock, bluff, or thing facing south would be hotter than the north, and as a result, knew that any seed facing south would be ready for harvesting first (ignoring elevation). This is because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the south side of any object will see the most hours of sunlight in a day.

5. Work in designated lines. When working in groups, it is important to assign work areas within your collection site. I have found that working in transects works best. This allows for all areas to be covered. No accidentally missing plants. No double-picking. You are responsible for an area – you know where you began, you know where you stopped, you know how much you’ve collected.

Eriophyllum lanatum //
Oregon Sunshine

Honorable Mentions

Don’t be greedy. Take your percentage, leave the rest, and trust that Nature will provide everything you are meant to take.

Don’t cry over spilled seed. Seed spilled in the wild isn’t really lost or wasted. It’s where it was originally meant to be.

Patient work, not speedy. Small collection species are tedious and require a lot of effort. Don’t give up on collecting early because it’s uncomfortable. Pay your dues. Take the time to do the work. Tomorrow’s collection species will probably be easier.

Walk around. Find the beginning or the end of a population to begin your work. Don’t start in the middle and make yourself all confused. Additionally, you might find something new that you missed before.

CM scouting for potential collection sites.

-Casey Mills

Botany, Backpacking, & Birthdays – Oh My!

July has been a BUSY month! With seed collection beginning, backpacking trips, birthdays, and National Park visits, I feel overwhelmed with information, news, and experiences.

Nolan and I were finally able to start collecting seed here in the Umpqua (YAY). From the tiny farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) and bluehead gilia (Gilia capitata) that required hours of crawling on hands and knees to the elongated pea ponds of slender goldenbanner (Thermopsis gracilis), we’ve collected roughly pounds of seed with much more to go!

Botany crew memebers from Tiller and Diamond Lake Ranger Districts

The Diamond Lake botany crew met up with trail and botany crews from a neighboring district to tackle non-native invasive species in a wilderness area of the Forest. Our trip was a 4 day backpacking trip to Fish Lake. While there we treated hundreds of canada thistle along with himalayan blackberry. Between the two botany crews, I think I was in the running for most miles hiked- around 22 miles (give or take). This was my first backpacking trip and overall I very much enjoyed the experience!

Pheromone packet

This month I also turned 25! I spent my birthday visiting Crater Lake National Park – potentially my favorite Oregon destination… I started with a nice sunrise hike up the Watchman Peak Trail. My love for Crater Lake stems greatly from the large of amount of White Bark Pines that I can see there. While on my sunrise hike, I saw a great number of the pines and even noticed a few pheromone packets nailed to the trees. These packets are used as a short-term treatment to protect individual pine trees from mountain pine beetle attack. These beetles naturally produce pheromones that disperse other beetles away from colonized trees. AKA the patch you see in the photo above communicates to the mountain pine beetle that this tree has no vacancy, protecting it from colonization. Happy to see the efforts being made to protect these special trees!

Pick the Berries

Native, Wild Blackberries

What’s my favorite part of seed collecting and weed treating?

The berry picking.

During my time here in the Umpqua, I have successfully established myself as “the berry girl” to those that I work with most frequently.

Wild strawberries, thimbleberries, and blackberries have become a part of my daily diet. Not intentionally or by planning. They just so happen to be growing wherever we are in the Forest – like little presents presented to me throughout the workday.

Collect a seed, eat a berry. Pull a weed, eat a berry.

Whenever I first arrived in Oregon in late May, the berries were not ripe enough to eat, perhaps just barely formed or not at all. To my delight, however, June brought growth and development – for the plants and myself.

Like the briars of the wild, native blackberry, moving away from home can sting – bringing about uncomfortable, newfound independence and solitude. The only way to avoid getting scratched is by not picking the berries.

But also like the berry, moving has been and can be incredibly sweet and satisfying. So I say, pick the berries! experience life. move to a new place. start a new job. meet new people.

Berry picking is a toss-up. Regardless of how well you think you’ve selected your seemingly ripe fruit, sometimes you still end up with a rather tart or bland taste or even a few bugs … Thankfully, I can say that the Umpqua has been exactly what I wanted and so far, the sweetest of picks.

I do think that I will be quite sad when berry season is over. Maybe that is why I have an ode to blueberries on my arm – a tattoo to commiserate my time in Maine last summer where wild blueberries grew like grass in fields around Acadia National Park.

Thinking back, I do suppose that I find berries wherever I go, like hallmarks of my summers and travels.

So I make the time to find the best berry patches after work and on the weekends. I enjoy their existence while there is still time because seasons don’t wait for us. We live according to the seasons and whether or not we experience them to the fullest is on us.

So I pick while I can and I live while I can – enjoying the briars and the berries that I find along the way.