Saturday Linkages: Spoiled Kids, Leaf Blowers, and Yet More Signs of the Artisinal Apocalypse

Customized leaf blower by artist Rubén Ortiz-Torres

Those damn leaf blowers! It’s Not About the Noise: Pollen, Mold, Feces and Lung-Lodging Particulates: 

Why Are American Kids So Spoiled? : The New Yorker 

Man builds 50 Foot Wooden Tower to reach vegetable garden: 

Another sign of the artisinal apocalypse: NYC water cafe sells fancily filtered local water 

Hacked Ikea Leaning Chair:  

Authors@Google: John Jeavons: 

Stop the War on Front Yard Vegetable Gardens – Arrêtez la Guerre contre les Potagers sur les Cours Avant  

Chicken proofing your vegetable garden: Garden Rant 

Color in the (House and) Garden | Garden Rant 

Desperately Seeking Shade: How South L.A. Bus Riders Weather the Elements  

Color Palettes Inspired by Cats from Design Seeds – 

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Front Yard Vegetable Garden Update

One advantage of living in a slightly rough-around-the-edges Los Angeles neighborhood is that nobody gets bent out of shape about front yard vegetable gardens. Indeed, they are  a tradition in immigrant neighborhoods.

The picture above is an update of one of the front yard gardens Kelly blogged about back in May.

It looked like this when she first blogged about it. Not sure exactly what’s growing here. It looks like beans from a distance, but up close they’re not any bean variety that I’ve ever seen. There are also bitter melons and hot peppers growing on the front fence.

Looking nice, and food will be on the table soon.

Dr. Chase, 19th Century Mixologist

And I thought book titles were getting too long. Root Simple reader David Stentiford sent me a link to an online collection of recipe books, Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, maintained by Michigan State University. David especially wanted to call attention to a book, published in 1864, Dr. Chase’s Recipes. The full title of Dr. Chase’s book?

Dr. Chase’s Recipes; Or, Information for Everybody: An Invaluable Collection of About Eight Hundred Practical Recipes, for Merchants, Grocers, Saloon-Keepers, Harness Makers, Painters, Jewelers, Blacksmiths, Tinners, Gunsmiths, Farriers, Barbers, Bakers, Dyers, Renovaters, Farmers, and Families Generally, To Which Have Been Added A Rational Treatment of Pleurisy, Inflammation of the Lungs, and other Inflammatory Diseases, and also for General Female Debility and Irregularities: All arranged in their Appropriate Departments.

There’s certainly many recipes of interest to the modern homesteader, not to mention artisinal mixologists, in this book: rhubarb wine, bitters, spruce beers and “Lemonade–To Carry in the Pocket”:

Loaf sugar1lb.; rub it down finely in a mortar, and add citric acid 1/2 oz: tartaric acid will do, and lemon essence 1/2 oz, and continue the trituration until all is intimately mixed, and bottle for use . . . A rounding tablespoon can be done up in a paper and carried convenently in the pocket when persons are going into out-of-the-way places, and added to half pint of cold water.”

And, should all the sugar so loved in the 19th century rot out your teeth, Dr. Chase is kind enough to provide instructions on how to extract your own teeth with, “little or no pain.”

Tree Tobacco as a Stinging Nettle Cure

Tree tobacco or Nicotiana glauca. Image from Wikipedia.

Yesterday’s Solanum nigrum (Black Nightshade) post reminded me of a fascinating tidbit about another plant from the nightshade family that I learned from foraging expert Pascal Baudar: the leaves of tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) ease stinging nettle rash. We were out gathering nettles with Pascal, so the lesson was much appreciated–and field tested. All you have to do is rub a Solanum nigrum leaf on the sting–make sure some of the leaf juice gets on there– and the sting goes away. So if you plan to harvest nettles, I’d recommend you keep a tree tobacco leaf in your pocket.

The classic herbal antidote to nettle stings is Jewelweed, but I don’t believe it grows in the southwest–at least I’ve never seen it. Tree tobacco is a good substitute for folks in our region

Native Americans smoked Nicotiana glauca and used it as a topical medicine. It is poisonous if taken internally.

A late note from Kelly, who is out of town and so didn’t get to consult on this post before it went up: 

As Erik says here, Nicotiana glauca totally works for nettle stings–I highly recommend it– but I have some contradicting information regarding Native American usage.

I took a herbology class with the late Cecilia Garcia, who was a Chumash medicine woman, and she told us that Indians used this plant as an appetite suppressant during hard times. The adults would drink tea made of its leaves so they could give what food they had to the children. This sad story always gives me chills when I think of it.

That said, I would never drink it myself! There are safer appetite suppressants out there. The toxicology report Erik links to seems to indicate that the fatalities occurred in people who mistook it for an edible green and ate a lot of it.

As always…toxicity is related to dosage!

Also, I wouldn’t smoke it. If you want to smoke natural tobacco, it would be safer and probably better tasting to grow an interesting old strain of heirloom smoking tobacco. Native American smoking blends tend to be mixes of many plants, so I’d be wary of a 100% glauca cigarette. Again…dosage!

Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is Edible and Delicious

Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

The issue of the edibility of black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) came up in the comments on our post on forager Pascal Baudar. We’ve blogged about the confusion between the edible Solanum nigrum and the toxic “deadly nightshade” or Atropa belladonna in a post last year. But Pascal left a link to an excellent article by author and forager Sam Thayer that puts in the nail in the coffin of the myth that Solanum nigrum is poisonous.

Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

Two lessons here. As Thayer puts it, “myths of toxicity are commonplace (in fact, I’d argue that they are a universal feature of human culture) while myths of edibility are exceedingly rare, since they are soon discredited.” I strongly suspect that there are many other plants wrongly accused of toxicity. Remember that tomatoes were long thought poisonous, in part due to similarities in appearance to Atropa belladonna, and associations with witchcraft.

The second lesson is the importance of using scientific not popular names when describing plants. Much of the confusion surrounding Solanum nigrum is caused by “experts” confusing it with Atropa belladonna due to the similarity between both the appearance of the plant and the popular names. Solanum nigrum is, by the way, much more commonplace. 

Unripe (green) fruit of Solanum nigrum does contain solanine and should be avoided, but the ripe fruit is perfectly edible and quite delicious. People all around the world eat Solanum nigrum. In parts of the US Solanum nigrum berries are made into pies. I’ve snacked on Solanum nigrum berries from the backyard and I was lucky to be served Solanum nigrum prepared in a balsamic reduction sauce by Pascal’s partner Mia Wasilevich…and I’ve lived to tell the tale!