Birch Syrup

Around about three years ago now, I was visiting the Outpost ( which is now Magasin Generale but I kinda prefer The Outpost) for basic supplies, when I saw an interesting looking tray of small bottles near the cash – bottles shaped like your standard maple syrup type but with a thicker looking, blackish liquid inside. Of course, I had to find our what they were – and to my delight, they contained pure, local birch syrup – made by one of my cousins! Now I had never tasted birch syrup, but I’m a total sucker for our glorious fresh maple stuff – in cakes, over pancakes, flavouring baked winter squashes and a whole variety of confections and cookies. But birch? This is the land of the beautiful paper birch – along with less conspicuous but equally lovely (and healing) yellow variety. yet, in my 20 years living in the Outaouais, I have never seen nor tasted birch syrup.

So of course, along with my Santrapol coffee and locally made beeswax soap, I bought the syrup. I love anything that connects me ever deeper with this magical forested land I am blessed to live in. I was excited to get home and taste the new find, in it’s humble little bottle, with all it’s spiritual connection to this area.

Well, a few things. First, the syrup is an acquired taste, and it isn’t a good idea to just use it as a replacement for maple. I love the stuff now, but it took a while. The syrup is made by boiling the sap of the tree early in spring, exactly as maple syrup is made, but for the birch version it takes 120 litres of sap to get one litre of syrup. With maple, only 40 litres of fresh are required. The taste of birch syrup is distinctive, rich, somewhat like a blend of molasses and caramel, and a little goes a long way. I liked it best over buckwheat and currant cakes, but even so I still prefer ample. Where birch syrup shines in this household is in various condiments; I made all the recipes that came with it and every one is a keeper. Below is a sauce I developed and was a real hit with white fish and scallops; non vegetarians could use it with fowl as well. I think I will try some baking as well, although one thing holds me back from a show of real enthusiasm; birch syrup is predominantly composed of fructose. That does give me pause, although the hype says “more easily digested than sucrose” there are concerns about fructose:

Mind you, the small amount ingested in sauces and vinaigrettes isn’t making me lose sleep over this.I don’t drink fruit juice or otherwise inhale sugar in any form, so I can live with this. All foods have pros and cons, and birch syrup IS higher in Vitamin C, calcium and manganese than maple. As with all things – moderation is key. ..but, it’s something to be aware of.

Birch Syrup Sauce a la Chez Rupert

1/2 cup water
1/3 cup birch syrup
1/4 cup Tamari
1/3 cup white wine (I used Canadian Riesling)
1/4 cup lime juice
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

Whisk together well, then brush on fish before, during and even after cooking. You can marinate in it for an hour in the fridge, but with delicate fish like sole this can get overpowering.

Just one idea of many; I found this unique blend on a blog about native foods – interesting, no?

“As I type this I have a good dose of birch syrup mixed with of small handful of shallots, dab of butter, another dab of whole grain Dijon mustard, a splash of chicken stock, a gush of orange-banana-strawberry juice, a sprinkle of chilies, a pinch of S&P, and a glug of smokey Laphroaig scotch whiskey, thickening in preparation for glazing my pan roasted pork tenderloin.

Smells and tastes like heaven I tells ya.”
Maybe I’ll try that one day, but not soon, and definitely not on pork..

But, this site has a whole bunch more stuff I need to try:

All in all, a marvelous find,and I won’t let the worries about fructose bother me muchly. It’s used in small quantities, and it’s a marvelous product. Breathe in the Boreal! Bake, glaze, and don’t forget to drink spruce beer and elderberry wine while you cook! Food for the soul, from a magical tree.

Earth, Teach Me Stillness

Earth teach me stillness

Earth teach me stillness

as the grasses are stilled with light.

Earth teach me suffering

as old stones suffer with memory.

Earth teach me humility

as blossoms are humble with beginning.

Earth teach me caring

as the mother who secures her young.

Earth teach me courage

as the tree which stands alone.

Earth teach me limitation

as the ant which crawls on the ground.

Earth teach me freedom

as the eagle which soars in the sky.

Earth teach me resignation

as the leaves which die in the fall.

Earth teach me regeneration

as the seed which rises in the spring.

Earth teach me to forget myself

as melted snow forgets it’s life.

Earth teach me to remember kindness

as dry fields weep in the rain.

~~Ute, North American prayer~~

This is a blog about progress

I have several blogs now – some are active, but require a certain mood, a “professionalism” and the inspiration to rewrite  topics I have written on so many thousands of times I can’t even think about it. Some require quietude and a contemplative mindset and the rarest of commodities for me – solitude. This one requires nothing. This is my plant journey and all I have to do is show up. I don’t have to be the professional with all the answers, I don’t have to be in the right frame of mind, I just have to be. These are the lessons of mallow and white pine, those gentlest of healers and protectors, who came to me very early in my transition  (from armchair herbal wannabe to whatever it is you’d call me now) and said – we are here, we protect,soothe – warm and cool,  bring things to the fore and then help them heal-  and we offer ourselves to you as Allies.

Now some people will find that really out- there. I would have found that really out- there, except the truth is, it blasted open a frozen part of me, shook me to my core with love, and changed forever the way I see the world. First the pine, and then others  – poplar, hawthorn, calendula, maple and rose – then mallow… such an outpouring of wisdom and love, such a breathtaking transformation.. I am four years into this new way of seeing plants and indeed, the world – and it feels like remembrance of  deep, lost knowledge – oh every breath of it does. It feels like a reward for much work that felt for great stretches at a time that it was going nowhere. It feels like love.

Around me I see so many others whose lives are moving into connection with the ancient ways, working with plants as spiritual healers. Often I spend so much time there when I surface and connect with the dis-connected world I feel disoriented and alone. but we are never alone. It seems to me only a logical progression – from mystical empathy with other species, to all mammals, and then to birds and all life — and — the next step is to the plant  world,  our Ancestors, those beings without whom there would be no life at all on earth, as we know it.

So this is my moment in the Cycle, and here I can be, not the professional, not the teacher and Guide, not the Elder with the answers – but just me. Would you like herbal tea, coffee or a beer?

Mallow and White Pine

The name of this blog refers to the two plant allies I am working with this year – although they have long been friends, and I trust and love them deeply, this is the year I decided to honour their Medicine and deepen my relationship, by working with both as Allies. For those who might not know what I mean by that, more later. For now, a simple introduction to  the Medicine.

White Pine (Pinus strobus) was my first ally, when I started working in this way with plants and trees.It was Susun Weed’s writings that started to shift my relationship to plants from “things to get constituents out of ” and  magical correspondences, to the way I relate to, love and understand them now. For many years I fancied myself a bit of a herbalist; to be fair, I had walked around this area for a decade with my Peterson Field guides and  well worn copies of John lust in my backpack – I could tell you the common names (and a few Latin) of most of the usual field and roadside plants – and add in a couple f uses as well. I proudly made mullein ear oil for the dogs and a blend of chapparal, echinacea and I-forget-what now, that I got from Jeanne Rose’s section on herbal help for animals. I could certainly tell you what storebought and usually trendy herb to get for your arthritic dog, or your own upset tummy…I had a dozen herbals and a pretty expansive knowledge of magical uses. The store I worked in, lat 1980s, had a line up from Acacia to Yohimbe, in glass jars right in the front window(a pretty bad place, if I may say so in retrospect). In my work with dogs, I’d grown accustomed to using the same dozen commercial herbs over and over. Plus, I had a working knowledge of about 20 Essential Oils, mostly blending them into formulas for such thing as anointing candles at Beltane or Yule.

I had no idea how much there was to learn.

I can’t recall just why I started the ABCs of Herbalism  with Susun, but it was at a time when I felt I needed to ground my magical practise in something immediate and lived – “magic” per se felt like it was becoming a little abstracted and remote, whereas I prefer a green Witch, Earth Path kind of approach, weaving magic into cooking, caring for animals, even cleaning and organizing my home, and Susun’s straightforward and down-to-earth method of teaching appealed to that. I started with the idea of an Ally, rather hesitantly – what could I say to a TREE? It’s weird to look back on that now and wonder, whatever was I thinking, I mean I spoke with ancient deities, the Fae and Spirits of the Land all the time, but still somehow saw plants as inanimate objects. It goes to show how deeply our attitudes toward life and the Green World really are inculcated! As I found out, it was not so much what I could say to a tree, but of course, what he said to me, and how my process of hearing unfolded..

And so I started thinking about just this one tree, in a different way. Doing the daily breathe-with exercise. Speaking to him, learning his ways. Slowly making medicines – pine needle tea and vinegar,  salve from overflowing resin and needles infused in almond oil, baking crushed needles into shortbread and quickbreads (with varying results). I learned as much as I could about the species (I’m good at things like that) learned to make things with needle and resin (I’m ok at things like that) and then I waited for some gnosis to strike me, so I’d *get* this “plant shaman thing.” (I am terrible at waiting).

I won’t try to sum up such a long and lovely unfolding of  relationship here. I’ll just make a start with the first thing I really *saw* –  and I’ve practised augury of various kinds for decades – I needed something concrete and unmistakable to wake up, an I think the Pine-being knew that. So one morning several years ago, I was out poking around the edge of the property – where my one White Pine presides, and found this on the ground in front of me, unavoidable, plain as the day.

you can’t see it here, but this was a perfect length and shape (forked end) for a stang. So now it looks like this:

Well, actually it’s been further stripped and sanded, and is awaiting  adornment (I don’t make enough time for this aspect of my life) but I don’t  have a newer photo, and this one has my beautiful cat Sita Mari in it, plus my Temple door and groovy Qabalah print (from my BOTA days). . So it shows the gift of pine..that started opening me to hearing plant spirit speaking.

For those who don’t know what a stang is, a good description can be found  here:

Now it is years later and while I put aside the Ally work for a while, to focus on cramming as much book-learning into my head as possible(and yes, some medicine making and wildcrafting as well) I have come to immersion in the deep wisdom of the Ally. Althea had a great part to play in that realization, as did my Silver Maple tree…but enough for now. This blog is about process, healing, magic, beauty, and finding one’s purpose at whatever stage of life. It’s about perserverance and strength with a touch of softness, like both Mallow and White Pine. It’s about opening to spirit in places you had not thought were there. It’s about plants, animals and one woman’s journey.  May you find your own Allies and love them as I do my own.

The Moment Before it All Awakens

Or at least, that’s what today felt like walking through the forest behind my home in the Gatineau Hills.
That’s the pattern most of the time; snow melts (eventually) and the drab grey fields appear, the stark trees stand looking hopeless, the ground squishes but does not bring forth. That’s April or some of it anyway. It isn’t our prettiest moment in these parts, although to be honest I can’t imagine anything here being unlovely, just more so or less so.. These days in between snow melt and explosion – days or a couple of weeks at most – are still wonderful in that walking is fantastic of your footwear is good; it’s not cold and it’s not hot and there are no bugs at all, nor hunters, and bears can be avoided, thought it’s true they are waking up. It’s a strange little mini-season, with a core type of energy and some influence of course from the planets and stars..  we fall asleep with the windows open, excited to feel the air at last but by 4 am we’re freezing under the  feather duvet and have to get up to close them.  We go out wearing scarves and mittens but have to take them off before long.And it doesn’t last long.

Slowly – imperceptibly if you’re not paying attention – the seedlings and blossoms and babies appear. we tend to notice birds – robins and veerys and mourning doves and kestrels – and we tend to gripe about the sloppy ground and the unpredictable weather. But this phase is  deceptive. There’s always little buds and  catkins and the very beginnings of green everywhere. I started paying attention a while ago; this year is no different.

It’s the moment right before it all explodes. That’s the usual pattern. Grey, dreary, a little greener, a lot greener and then – it’s Paradise. Today was one of those moments right before, I can expect maybe a week at most, the greenery will be dazzling and the forest exploded with beauty and freshness.

What have I seen so far this year?

Well, in this microclimate of the region, we have a zillion  Trout lilies very early on (Erythronium americanum), incredibly dense in some areas, their mottled leaves and bright yellow flowers nodding in the breeze – edible, but the leaves should be steamed, and start slow, they can have an emetic effect on some folks. I’m not excited about eating them.  I’m going to post a separate entry about  Trout Lily, Birthroot, Wild Ginger and other early plants separately, for now here are some image of the lovely yellow flower, right in my backyard:

And a couple of pics from a late April hike – Danny and me, serenaded by a Mockingbird, whose vocal gymnastics never cease to amaze me.

Birthroot everywhere

A veritable ocean of ramps

Indian Creek is “haunted” they say – I prefer the word “enchanted”

He always waits for me, love of my heart that he is.
This time in front of a bunch of hawthorn trees, I cannot wait for blossoms.

One part Mirkwood and one part The Shire – the magic of the Gatineaus has to be felt- and everyone who comes here feels it. Pictures never convey the enchantment -but this picture captures a little wee bit.