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HERBS FOR AUTUMN EQUINOX: PART III

SEEDS & NUTS: The Autumn Equinox is also the season of seeds and nuts. Seeds are tiny little energy packages bursting with potential. Seeds and nuts are at their peak in the fall season. They are a high calorie food that have historically been a staple in native people’s diets. Nuts and seeds are also an important food source for animals, so keep that in mind as you are harvesting. Seeds are nutrient dense and tend to store well. Harvest when the plant goes to seed, and the seedpods are dry.

Medicinal and edible seeds to harvest in fall include: Acorn, Black Walnut, Burdock, Caraway, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Mesquite, Nettle, Pine Nuts, Pumpkin, Sunflower, and Yellow Dock. Medicinal and edible seeds to harvest in fall include: Acorn, Black Walnut, Burdock, Caraway, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Mesquite, Pine Nuts, Pumpkin, and Sunflower.

Acorn (Quercus alba): gather acorns in the fall, between September and October, when they first drop. The green acorns that fall early are not ripe and probably have worms in them. Wait for the darker acorns to fall before harvesting. Pick up acorns on a nice, dry, sunny day. Spread them out a layer thick on an old sheet in a dry, sunny place. This lets them sun dry and prevents any possible molding. It will also kill any insect eggs or larvae, which might be inside. Acorns from the Emory oak require no more processing than cracking them open and eating them. Like most nuts, acorns of all types benefit from toasting on a cookie sheet in an oven at 175° F. Stir to prevent scorching. Acorns are very easy to crack. The shell is pliable and quite thin. Pop the cap off, then grasp it with a pair of pliers and give it a squeeze. Don’t mash the kernel. Simply crack the shell. Then peel it off and toss the kernel into a bowl. When all are done, get out the food grinder. Put a fine knife on the grinder and run the shelled acorns through it. This makes a coarse meal. Place this in a large crock or glass bowl. Then add boiling water to cover and let stand an hour. Drain and throw away the brownish, unappetizing water. Repeat. Then taste the meal. It should have a bit of a bitter tang, then taste sweet as you chew a piece. Continue leaching out the tannin as long as necessary. When the acorn meal is mild tasting, it is ready to dry. Lay out a piece of old white sheet in a basket and pour the wet meal on it. Then, gathering up the edges, jelly bag style, press and squeeze, getting out as much of the water and tannin as possible.

Acorns contain nutrients that help in maintaining a healthy body. Tannins and flavonoids, along with the essential vitamins, protein, fiber, and minerals help to boost overall health. The antioxidants and unsaturated fats help to control metabolism.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra): harvest walnuts when they fall to the ground. Native nuts come into maturity September through October. Collect nuts as soon as possible to avoid mold. The hulls soften naturally over time, allowing easy access to the nut. If the hull feels firm and is difficult to remove, set the nut aside for a few days. The best way to de-hull a small amount of walnuts is by hand, with a chisel and hammer to knock the hull away. If worms are encountered while removing hulls, they do not affect the nut. Dispose of worms with the hulls. Rinse de-hulled nuts with a powerful hose or pressure washer to remove debris.

To dry walnuts in-shell, spread nuts on screen bottom trays for good circulation. Optimal drying temperature is 95-100 degrees for 3-4 days. Walnuts are adequately dry when kernels are brittle. Store in-shell walnuts in the freezer, packed in food saver bags or other air tight containers. In-shell nuts keep for a year.

The Native Americans use the bark, hulls and the leaf of the Black Walnut tree as a mosquito repellent, for skin disorders and the hulls were used to expel parasites from the intestines. In Traditional Chinese Medicine black walnut is used as a kidney tonic, and the bark, kernel and the hulls are used to eliminate various types of intestinal worms and parasites.

Fennel Seeds (Foeniculum vulgare): for optimal freshness, the seeds should be harvested just as the flowers are beginning to dry out and turn brown.

Clip the top of the stalks with the flower heads and place them on a tray in a dark place to dry for one to two weeks. Most of the seeds will dry and drop off the flowers. For those that don’t, rub the flower heads over a bowl until the seeds fall out. Remove any stalks from the bowl and transfer the seeds into small jars, leaving any powder and dust in the bottom of the bowl.

Fennel flowers all summer in large yellow umbels of flowers. It has tiny delicate fronds, as well as leaves and a woodier stalk that holds the plant upright. The best time to harvest Fennel is in the early morning, when the plant is freshest. Carefully cut the flower umbels and lay them flat. These tiny yellow flowers are often known as fennel pollen, and are a delicacy in very fine restaurants. It takes a lot of flowers to make this yellow pollen. The leaves and fronds should be laid to dry too. It doesn't take a lot of time for fennel to dry out, as the parts that are edible are quite delicate. After it's dried, store the fronds, leaves, and flowers together in an airtight container.

Fennel seeds are used to prepare tea that is very beneficial for digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, and flatulence, and it also eases painful menstrual cramps. The tea has a delicious, slightly bitter licorice taste.

Pine Nuts (Pinus edulis): come from pinyon pine trees. These pines are native to the United States, although other pines with edible pine nuts are native to Europe and Asia, like the European stone pine and the Asian Korean pine. Pine nuts are the smallest and the fanciest of all nuts. The taste is sweet and subtle.

Harvest pine nuts in the fall. Choose pine trees with low branches that contain both opened and unopened pine cones. The opened pine cones indicate that the pine nuts are ripe, and that they have already released their nuts. Gather closed cones by twisting them off the branches. Try not to get the sap on your hands since it is hard to clean off. Fill the bag with cones, then take them home. Pine cones are built of overlapping scales and the pine nuts are located inside each scale. The scales open when exposed to heat or dryness. Leave the bag of cones in a warm, dry, sunny location, and the cones will release the nuts on their own. Wait a week, then shake the bag vigorously. The pine cones should be open and the pine nuts slide out of them. Collect them, then remove the shells on each with your fingers.

Sunflower Seeds (Helianthus annuus): At the end of the season, harvest sunflower seeds for a tasty snack, replant, or feed the birds in the winter! Let the flower dry on or off the stem until the back of the head turns brown, the foliage turns yellow, the petals die down, and the seeds look plump and somewhat loose. With sharp scissors or pruners, cut the head off the plant about 6 inches below the flower head. Place in a container to catch loose seeds. Lie the sunflower head on a flat, clean surface and grab a bowl to hold the seeds. To remove the seeds, rub your hand over the seeded area and pull them off the plant. If harvesting the seeds for roasting, cover the flowers with a cheesecloth and a rubber band to protect the heads from the birds. Alternatively, cut the flower head early and hang the heads upside down until the seeds are dry, in a place that’s safe from birds and mice. Rinse sunflower seeds before laying out to dry overnight. When saving seeds to replant, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until planting season.

Sunflower seeds are rich in the B complex vitamins, which are essential for a healthy nervous system, and are a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin E. They also contain trace minerals, zinc, manganese, copper, chromium and carotene as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids - types of 'good' fat that may help to protect the arteries. A good natural source of zinc, sunflower seeds are popular immune boosters. They also help protect against heart disease and ease stress.

Autumn Spiced Nuts by Culinary Ginger: Mixed nuts and pumpkin seeds are roasted with warm spices, honey and rosemary. The perfect comforting snack.

Ingredients: 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped, 2 egg whites, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 cups almonds, raw and unsalted, 2 cups pecans, raw and unsalted, 2 cups cashews, raw and unsalted, and 1 cup pumpkin seeds, unsalted and with or without shells.

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the center of oven. Line 1 large and 1 medium baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the garam masala, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, rosemary and salt to a small

bowl, mix and set aside. Add the egg whites and honey to a mixing bowl and whisk until frothy. Stir in the nuts and pumpkin seeds. Add the spices in small batches, mixing well between additions. Spread the nut mixture onto the baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for 10 minutes, stir and continue to roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.


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