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Asides & Glossary

 

Coumarin:   Coumarin is found in many plants, including lavender, woodruff, and sweet clover; and also in strawberries, apricots, cherries, and cinnamon. Coumarin smells like vanilla but what little flavor it has is bitter. This may serve to repel some insects. It is found in high percentages in the tonka bean (Dipteryx odorata, Fabaceae (Pea) Family). Tonka bean extract is commonly used to adulterate vanilla in Mexico.
   I once had a huge bottle of vanilla that I admit to buying in Mexico for a ridiculously low price. It smelled richer, and much less like alcohol than my little American bottle of vanilla. Apparently that's a good sign that it's not vanilla. The brand, Daancy, appears in an FDA Import Alert listing products that are subject to detention without examination due to coumarin content. (Meaning that it's really Tonka Bean extract.) I guess next time I'll know better.
   Coumarin was banned by the FDA as a food additive in 1940, due to studies showing liver toxicity. There is also some evidence that it may be carcinogenic.
   Additionally, it is a factor in some cases of livestock poisoning. Some common molds break coumarin down into dicoumarol.
   Dicoumarol interferes with the body's ability to produce vitamin K. Vitamin K is essential to blood clotting. Thus, dicoumarol acts as an anticoagulant.
   When cattle eat sweet clover that has spoiled, the dicoumarol works to thin their blood, leading (in more severe cases) to internal and/or external bleeding.
   Dicoumarol derivatives have been used as rat poison (namely, warfarin). Rodents that are poisoned this way die from internal bleeding.
   A further derivative, warfarin sodium, is an anti-coagulant prescription drug, the use of which must be carefully monitored by a physician, lest the patient bleed to death.
   Coumarin is used in fragrances and cosmetics, and to scent tobacco. During the tobacco exposé, when it came to light that the companies were adding coumarin to their cigarettes, some people seemed to think that was rat poison, but it's really not quite the same thing.
   Coumarin itself may or may not have anticoagulant properties.

Emmenogogue:   Acting to promote and regulate menstruation. If you happen to be pregnant, this is something to avoid.

Infusions:   Infusions can be made hot or cold, with water or with oil. In general, hot infusions are better for tougher plants, and cold infusions are better for more delicate plants.
   Water-based infusions are generally prepared like tea, and are often,but not always, drunk.
   Infusing oils is a very similar process:
   For a cold infusion, tightly pack the plant material into a glass pint jar, add the oil, cover it, and leave it in a sunny place for two or three weeks. Next, use cheesecloth to strain the oil from the plant material. Now, do it again, using new plant material and the oil from the first infusion.
   For a hot infusion, tightly pack the plant material into a glass pint jar, add the oil, then empty that jar into a glass double-boiler (or a glass bowl on top of a saucepan), add a little more oil, and heat it on low for three to four hours. Use cheesecloth to strain the oil.
   Lastly, pour the hot or cold infused oil into glass bottles, cap them, and store in a cool, dark place. If there is any watery residue at the bottom of the oil, separate it from the oil and find some way to use it reasonably soon because it will spoil fairly quickly.

Liliopsida (monocotyledons):   plants with one seed-leaf

Magnoliophyta (flowering plants):   plants that reproduce by seeds which are enclosed by an ovary (Angiosperms).

Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons):   plants with two seed-leaves

Nitrate Accumulation & Poisoning:   Nitrate is one of the simplest forms of nitrogen. Plants absorb nitrates from the soil and convert them into more complex forms of nitrogen, such as proteins.
   There are a number of plants that are likely to accumulate nitrates, including lamb's-quarters, amaranth, spinach, corn, and beets. This happens especially when soil fertility is very high (generally the result of adding nitrogen fertilizer), and also when something slows the process of photosynthesis, such as herbicide, drought, or frost. Nitrates are mostly accumulated in the plant tissues and not in the seeds (or not much).
   Human infants and some animals have bacteria in their digestive systems which convert nitrates to nitrite. In humans, by six months old, the acid levels in the digestive system rise higher and kill these bacteria, and the danger of nitrate poisoning is mostly past, although if you're pregnant, being treated for cancer, or have low stomach acidity, there is increased risk.
   Nitrites bind to the hemoglobin in blood, robbing it of the ability to carry oxygen. Since hemoglobin's function is to carry oxygen, the net effect is oxygen starvation. Symptoms of nitrite poisoning include shortness of breath and reduced immunity to disease, and, in extreme cases, may lead to death from suffocation. This is the cause of 'Blue baby syndrome'. However, almost all documented cases of nitrate poisoning in infants arise not from food, but from high nitrate levels in drinking water. Livestock, though, are frequently poisoned by high nitrate levels in food, possibly due to the lack of variety in their diet.
   There is a possibility that Vitamin A may (or may not) help counteract the poisoning.
   Nitrates also combine with some proteins to make nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. (Remember the warnings about bacon?)
   Whether or not they cause cancer, Vitamin C will prevent the nitrosamines from forming.
   My overall conclusion is that if you're over six months old, healthy, and have a good diet, you probably don't have to worry too much about nitrates in your food. However, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are still toxic, so the warning about collecting food or medicine from areas which may have been so treated still stands.

Non-vascular & vascular plants:   A vascular system is a system of vessels for the transport of water and nutrients.
Sometimes the Plant Kingdom is divided into only two groups:
   The Bryophytes (the mosses, liverworts, and hornworts), which have no vascular system, and can't transport food or water from one part of the plant to another; and
   the Tracheophytes (all the other plants), which have a vascular system, and can transport fluids and nutrients from one part to another.
  Actually, though, the Bryophytes can transport fluids to some extent through simple absorption.

Oxalic Acid & Oxalates:   Oxalic acid occurs naturally in quite a large number of plants. The human body also synthesizes oxalic acid from ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Oxalic acid may combine with calcium, iron, sodium, magnesium, or potassium to form less soluble salts known as oxalates. Oxalates also occur naturally in plants.
   Since oxalic acid binds with important nutrients, making them inaccessible to the body, regular consumption of large amounts of foods high in oxalic acid over a period of weeks to months may result in nutrient deficiencies, most notably of calcium.
   Oxalic acid is a strong acid, and is irritating to tissue all by itself. Extremely high doses are fatal. Oxalates, on the other hand, form tiny little insoluble crystals with sharp edges, which are also irritating to tissue. So, high levels of oxalic acid/oxalates in the diet lead to irritation of the digestive system, and particularly of the stomach and kidneys. They may also contribute to the formation of kidney stones (the most common form of kidney stone is composed of calcium oxalate).
   Foods containing these chemicals may be consumed in moderation. However, if you suffer from kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout, it is usually recommended that you avoid foods that are high in oxalates or oxalic acid. Foods generally found on the list include: chocolate, cocoa, coffee, most berries (especially strawberries and cranberries), most nuts (especially peanuts), beans, beets, bell peppers, black pepper, parsley, rhubarb, spinach, swiss chard, summer squash, sweet potatoes, and tea.
   Plant foods with high concentrations of oxalic acid (over 200 ppm) include (but are not limited to): lamb's-quarter, buckwheat, star fruit, black pepper, purslane, poppy seeds, rhubarb, tea, spinach, plantains, cocoa and chocolate, ginger, almonds, cashews, garden sorrel, mustard greens, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, soybeans, tomatillos, beets and beet greens, oats, pumpkin, cabbage, green beans, mango, eggplant, tomatoes, lentils, and parsnips.
   Info for the preceding paragraph comes from the ARS Phytochemical Database

Plantae (plants):   multi-cellular organisms that produce food through photosynthesis.

Spermatophyta (seed plants):   plants that reproduce by seeds.

Spinach Leaf Miner:   The spinach leaf miner is a small fly which lays its eggs on the leaves of lamb's quarters, spinach, swiss chard, beets, and other related plants. The eggs hatch in a few days and the larvae enter the leaves, where they feed for a week or two. Having reached their full growth, they then burrow out of the leaf and drop to the ground, where they burrow into the soil and enter their pupal stage. A few weeks later, they emerge as flies, and the whole thing starts over.
To control infestations, pick and destroy affected leaves.

Taxon:   Any taxonomic division. Every branch, twig, and leaf of the plant kingdom's tree is a taxon, and so is the tree.

Threshing & Winnowing:   Threshing is the process by which stalks are seperated from their seeds. First, allow the stalks to dry. Then, spread a sheet or dropcloth on a hard surface. (I like to fold it over so the stalks are covered.) Smaller amounts may be placed in a pillowcase or similar bag. Next, stomp on the stalks, or beat them with a stick, or run them over with your car. The object is to pulverize the whole mess as much as possible without crushing the seeds. When this is accomplished, there will be a pile of mixed chaff and seeds. Separating these is called winnowing.
   The simplest way to winnow is to gently toss the threshed grain in the air, whereupon the chaff, which is lighter, blows away, while the seeds, which are heavier, fall back down onto the cloth. Other useful items for catching the seeds are shallow, tightly woven baskets or shallow trays. If the wind is not cooperative, a box fan set on low works quite well. Another way of separating the chaff from the seeds is to use a set of differently sized screens, mounted in frames. The best screens to use are stainless steel. Stainless steel is strong, durable, and will not contaminate food, unlike fiberglass or aluminum. The only vendor I've located so far that has such screens is The Abundant Life Seed Foundation. They may seem a bit expensive, but it's possible to save a bit by framing them yourself, and now that I've used mine, it's my opinion that they are well worth the expense considering the time they save.

Thujone:   Plants with high concentrations of thujone include white cedar, tansy, wormwood, and sage. Thujone is believed to be toxic to the brain and nervous system. It is likely to cause seizures when consumed in quantity or consumed regularly over a period of time. Thujone should be avoided by pregnant people and epileptics.

Tracheobionta (vascular plants):   plants with a system of vessels for the transport of water and nutrients.

Vitamin E:   Vitamin E is used as a preservative in ointments, lotions, oils, etc. To add Vitamin E to a recipe, simply purchase capsules or softgels, cut them open, and squeeze the contents into your concoction. You can also buy Vitamin E oil at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Yarrow & the I Ching:   I am not going to try to explain the I Ching, but I will try to explain how yarrow stalks are used to cast it. Doing it this way is a much more meditative experience than some of the modern methods.
 The stalks provide a way of generating a not quite random number, specifically, either:

6: old yin, yin changing to yang
7: young yang
8: young yin
9: old yang, yang changing to yin
lines

   When you cast, then, you get two hexagrams, the first reflecting the current situation, and the second predicting the likely outcome.
   So take your bundle of fifty yarrow stalks and remove four at a time until you have only two left. Set one of them aside. You won't be using it. Put the other 49 stalks in something and shake them up. Then divide them into two approximately equal piles, the left-hand pile, and the right-hand pile. Pick up one stalk from the right-hand pile and put it between your left ring finger and little finger. Hang onto it, and pick up the left-hand pile with your left hand, holding them between your thumb and index finger. Now take four stalks out at a time until there are four or less left. If there are 1, 2, or 3 stalks remaining, the outcome of the cast is 3. If there are four stalks remaining, the outcome is 2. Remember that. But you're not done yet, now you check to make sure you counted right. So take the one, two, three, or four stalks you had left and put them between your left middle finger and ring finger. Then pick up the right-hand pile with your left hand, again holding them between the thumb and index finger. Take out four at a time and put them with the ones you discarded last time, until you have four or less again. You should now have either five or nine stalks in your left hand. (The first one, by your little finger; and the remainder from the cast, between your ring and middle fingers (1, 2, 3, or 4); and the remainder from checking between your thumb and index finger (correspondingly, 3, 2, 1, or 4). If there are five, it verifies that your outcome was 3; and if there are nine, it was 2. Keep remembering that and put those stalks with the one you set aside in the beginning.
   Now divide the forty or forty-four stalks that are left into two groups and do the whole thing over, except that this time, when you've done the cast, and you have 1 or 2 stalks left, the outcome is 3, and if you have 3 or 4, the outcome is 2. Then when you do the check you should correspondingly have 2, 1, 4, or 3, so that the total number of stalks in your hand is either four (outcome=3) or eight (outcome=2). Remember that number too, put the four or eight stalks in your hand with the five or nine you set aside last time and the one you left out in the beginning.
   Take the remaining stalks, divide them into two piles, and do it again. This time is the same as last time, and when you're finished, you've come up with 2 or 3 again.
   Now add the outcomes of all three casts together for a grand total of 6, 7, 8, or 9. This represents the first line of your hexagram.
   But a hexagram has six lines, so now go way back to the start, pick up all the stalks, and do it all over, to get the second line, and then again for the third, and so on until you have six. You can then look up the text (and interpretations) for your hexagram in any number of books or online resources. You could also just open the book at random, or get a reading in a second online, but it wouldn't put you in nearly the same mood.

 

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