Skillshare Workshops are occasional weekend workshops where YOU teach us something we do not already know. These are often focused on practical skills-sharing. Past workshop topics include: fermentation, vermiposting & building your own worm box, screen printing, sewing rebellion, general repair, building an FM radio station, and so on. If you are interested in offering a Skillshare Workshop please contact Mess Hall.
Each Sunday through October, Mess Hall is featuring The People’s College of Transition Skills, a series of skill-sharing workshops hosted by Transition Rogers Park from 10:00 to noon.
On Sunday 10 July, TRP’s Herbal Remedies Group led a workshop entitled Exploring Herbal Remedies. Milton and Breanna shared the results of their recent experiments with tinctures, tonics and salves.
First, participants sampled violet honey and a tincture made from violets, which are an expectorant, alterative, anti-inflammatory, diuretic neoplastic. In other words, they help the lungs and improve nutrition, shrink swollen tissues, improve urination and fight tumors!
Next we tried “Master Tonic,” a mixture of Horseradish, Garlic, Onion, Hot Pepper, Vinegar and Ginger. This muddy liquid had a pungent odor and sharp taste. A couple of ounces a day are recommended as a stimulant which improves digestion, speeds healing and kills worms, among other beneficial effects. We agreed that when mixed with a little olive oil it would make an excellent salad dressing.
Next we tried several tinctures, including one made from Motherwort and one made from Willow bark. Milton and Breanna made their tinctures by stuffing jars with the herbs, then filling them with a good quality vodka (in the future they’ll use grain alcohol). They let the jars sit for two or three weeks, shaking them daily (or whenever they remembered). They then strained the liquid and voila! Motherwort tincture is a sedative and anti-spasmodic said to improve menstrual flow. Willow bark tincture has all the qualities of aspirin: its anti-inflammatory, a fever-reducer and pain-reliever, and reduces swelling. Of all the dietary aids we tried that day, the Willow was the most medicinal tasting–it packed a bitter punch that made the whole body shudder, but very quickly produced a definite sense of peacefulness.
Finally, we tried a Comfrey salve, made by mixing the plant with bees’ wax. Rubbed on a minor wound, the salve lowers swelling and soothes the pain.
Participants discussed the relation between medicine and food, and wondered at the distinction between them developed by modern science and industry. Imagine a world in which there was no distinction–in which our ordinary diets prevented disease and helped us to heal, rather than poisoning us, as so many mass-produced and “fast” foods tend to do. We also shared recipes, such as this one:
KAREN’S ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL
30 large Elder flowerheads
4 lemons or limes, juiced
1 zest of a lemon
about 55g citric acid (food grade)
4.5 cups sugar
6 cups water
1. Pick the flowerheads and shake off the bugs.
2. Remove stems. Put flowers in a large pot or bowl.
3. Add lemon/lime juice, citric acid & sugar.
4. Boil water & pour over other ingredients. Stir. Allow to sit for 24 hours.
5. Using a muslin cloth, strain the liquid into a second bowl.
6. Pour the cordial into sterilized containers. It will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 months and can be frozen as well.
This delicious cordial can be used for any number of purposes; Karen recommends mixing a few tea spoons with carbonated water to make a tangy soda.
Join us next Sunday for a workshop on coloring fabrics with plant-based dyes led by Moly Costello!
Ultimately, the People’s College is intended to be a self-perpetuating mechanism through which anyone with a Transition-related skill can offer to teach it to their neighbors by simply posting an event on the Transition Rogers Park website and gathering together at an appropriate venue i.e. homes, backyards, parks etc. to carry it out. Since the People’s College is a concept and not an organizational entity, no approval is ever needed to share what you know with your neighbors. That’s what the Transition initiative is all about.
On Sunday 17 July, the People’s College, hosted by Transition Rogers Park, sponsored a skill-share workshop dedicated to paper making.
Molly Costello, an artist who learned paper-making for her senior-year project at Loyola College, led the workshop; she began by laying out the necessary materials: scrap paper, a blender, a plastic tub, a paper-making frame, the all-important sponge & plenty of water.
The scrap paper was torn into small squares and soaked in water for about an hour. The longer it soaks, the more it breaks down into pulp. Molly used regular printer paper: old notes and bills. Any paper will work,but glossy magazine paper, heavily saturated with photograph inks, can be difficult to work with, and newsprint, which has a very low fiber content, produces weaker paper.
An important fact to consider when recycling paper: 11% of all the fresh water in the world is used to make paper! How much of it do we throw out each day? Personally, this writer looks forward to the day when all the paper I use is recycled by hand . . .
It still takes quite a bit of water, of course. Once the paper is soaked, we put the scraps in the blender, filling it with 1/3rd paper & 2/3rds water. Whir it up in the blender for a few seconds and it will be fully pulped. The pulp is then poured into the plastic tub, which has already been filled about half-way up with water.
The paper-making frame is a quite simple device, easily made for less than $25. Molly purchased two sets of canvas stretcher bars from an art store, and some strips of children’s “playfoam” from the same place. The foam is stapled around the edge of one of the frames, which is called the deckle. This frame sits on top of the other one, and the foam allows the two be pressed together tightly. Stapled to the other frame is a piece of paper-making screen. A 9.5 x 12” screen costs about $10, and is easily ordered on-line or available at many art stores. A screen window can also be used, but this mesh is less tightly woven.
The two frames are held together and slipped into the water, with the screen facing up and the deckle frame on top. They are then pulled straight up, slowly, out of the water. The screen has collected a lot of pulp, which should be evenly dispersed across the screen. Holding the screens above the tub, Molly pulled the sponge across the bottom of the screen and number of times, pulling off a lot of the water. The deckle screen is then removed, and the screen is flipped over, onto a piece of plastic or interfacing (the thick paper used in shirt collars and cuffs, available in fabric stores). The pulp is now facing down on the interfacing. The back of the screen is sponged off several more times, until all the water is removed. When it is, you should be able to pick the screen up, leaving the paper on the interfacing.
The paper is very fragile until its dry. The most DIY drying method is just to place the interfacing, with the paper on it, in a sunny spot. More professionally, you can press multiple sheets with a printing press or heavy weights, squeezing the rest of the moisture out.
Approximately 2 sheets of scrap paper are used to make a sheet of this paper, which has a lovely texture and can be easily colored—by adding non-toxic tempura paints or vegetable-based dyes to the water.
On the morning of Sunday the 31st, the last day of July, Transition Rogers Park hosted a skill-sharing workshop led by Master Gardener Damon Taylor. TRP is a non-hierarchical, grass-roots organization responding to impending environmental crises by producing a more resilient neighborhood culture. Their skill sharing workshops allow members of Rogers Park to teach each other a culture of self-sufficiency while recognizing and appreciating our mutual interdependency.
Damon Taylor’s workshop focused on techniques for saving seeds. Damon, who grew up in Ohio, has been a gardener since he was in the 3rd grade. During the last five years, he has become particularly interested in saving seeds. Doing so is obviously economical: a single flower may contain as many seeds as you’ll find in a seed packet sold on the marketplace, and the seeds are quite easily extracted. But beyond cutting down on the cost of gardening, seed saving can help the gardener to introduce and retain varieties of plants which are not readily available on the market. For example, Damon showed us how to extract seeds from a Siberian tomato which is perfectly suited for Chicago’s climate, but not easy to find in stores or seed catalogs. These small, delicious tomatoes can be planted in the ground as early as April!
Damon passed around a cutting board holding a variety of plants; alongside the tomato were poppies, an unusual kind of cherry, red clover, sage, tobacco and the night-flowering Datura. He extracted seeds from most of the plants, showing us how to remove different types of seeds while offering general advice for seed savers.
Rule one is to make sure that the plant has gone through its life cycle. Only once is fully ripe should it be harvested for seed.
For tomatoes, cut the fruit in half and scoop or squeeze out the seeds, avoiding the pulp as much as possible. Puts the seeds into a very small strainer, mash out the pulp so there is a flat layer of seeds. Gently run water over the seeds to strain out the pulp. Leave the seeds in a gas oven (without turning it on) for a couple of days, or slap the seeds onto a paper plate, cover it with another paper plate, and let them sit for 2-3 days in a sunny, warm spot. The risk is that they will become covered with a fungus, but sunlight is prevent most fungi from taking hold. Once the seeds are fully dry—usually in a week or less—separate them from the paper and put them into paper envelopes or glass jars. Do not use plastic bags, as they are likely to retain moisture. Save the seeds in a cool, dark, basement-like situation.
Next, we looked at the “ground cherry”: these odd plants actually grow wild all over Illinois. Although they look much like tomato plants, their berry-like fruit tastes remarkably like cherries and can be used in salads or to make jam or pies. The fruit is covered by a papery husk—like a small brownish-gray envelope. They are called “ground cherries” because they fall off the stock when they are ripe, and so are normally harvested from the ground beneath the plans. Damon simply lets some of the fallen fruits dry in a sunny spot; they become raisin-like, and can then be stored in a jar.
To save peas & beans, you should pick your first good-looking ripe fruit once it is fully ripened; let the legume yellow on the vine, then pluck it, put it in a saucer to dry on a windowsill, then take out the seeds, put them in a glass jar. They should be hard and puckered, with no softness.
With basil or sage, dead-head the flowers to get the leaf growth, but near the end of the summer, let two or three of the flowers grow fully; when they are in full bloom, pluck them and hang them upside-down in a paper bag. As the plant dries, seeds will fall off into the bag; further seeds can be extracted by gently crushing the dried plant and shaking loose the seeds. Separate them from the other plant debris and store in a glass jar. The same technique can be used on sage, lavender, and the like.
The seeds of the opium or red poppy should be extracted shortly after the flower has produced its fruit. The large fruit pod turns gray-green; around the top there is a crown; eventually, the pod will crack open and spill its seeds in the wind. Before this happens, pick the pod and let it dry, then carefully cut open a slit near the crown and you can easily pour the seeds into a glass jar. Poppy seeds, of course, can be used for making poppy cake, etc.
Spinach, lettuce, chard, kale, collard greens, beets, radishes and similar plants should just be allowed to “bolt” or produce a flower near the end of the growing season; one flower will produce abundant seeds. Let it dry in the ground, then cut the stalk and hang it in a paper bag, out of direct light, for at least a week. As it dries, seeds will fall out into the bag.
Most seeds lose approximately 10-20% of their germination rate each year. After a year, about 85% of the seeds will probably germinate, after two years, maybe no more than 70%. Some seeds don’t lasst more than two years. Others, like the Dantura seed, can last for decades.
If you’re not sure whether or not the seeds you’ve saved will germinate, there is a simple test you can do. Take ten seeds and lay them in a line on a paper towel. Moisten the towel and roll it up around the line of seeds. Let it sit for a week, keeping it damp, and then unroll the paper towel: if five of the seeds have sprouted, you can expect a 50% germination rate, and so forth. Knowing this allows you to put an appropriate number of seeds into the ground to produce a single plant.