Friday, May 30, 2014

Exploring The Kootenays

Part VI

Sunflower Hill and Vicinity

Every year, usually around mid May, a part of the Kimberley Nature Park shows off in a spectacular display of sunflowers, hence the name Sunflower Hill. As I first heard about it, I wondered, sunflowers in spring?

Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Balsamorhiza sagittata, belongs indeed to the sunflower family. Distributed all over western North America, preferably on hillsides, the Balsamroot delights the winter weary beholder with it's colorful display.

Although you see smaller patches of  Balsamroot all through the Kootenays, Sunflower Hill and the adjacent riverbank of the St. Mary River seem to be one it's favorite spots.

Taking the well marked short hike up to Sunflower Hill will not only offer Balsamroot and other wildflowers, but also an incredible panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains including Fisher Peak.

Best seen from a plateau below the actual summit

Please click on the image for a full view

On a recent evening walk here, I saw for the first time a sun dog made by the already set sun...

In the quest of finding even more Balsamroot I followed a tip of a friend and explored the area around St. Eugene. And stumbled upon this neat little church. 
Pre-built in Italy the original St. Eugene church is one of the very few remaining Victorian wooden churches in BC.

But back to the is not only nice to look at, it also plays an important ecological role.
With it's fleshy taproots running deep into the rocky soil it helps preventing erosion, 

grazing wildlife likes to eat this sunflower, possibly because of the high protein content of the plant. The blossoms are attractive to native pollinators and the seeds provide food for small mammals and birds.
Not only animals take advantage of Balsamroot, humans have long since used the plant as an herbal medicine. It contains antibacterial compounds and an extract of the resinous root finds an application as expectorant.

Dogs seem to like it, too...;-)
If you live around here and haven't taken a hike at Sunflower Hill yet, hurry up and go, by mid June the wildflower show will have faded and resigned to the summer heat.

May Conservation Tip


There is hardly a plant out there that gets more viciously attacked by humans every spring than the dandelion. Most call it the "worst weed ever"....
Not too long ago I got offered round-up by a neighbor who took pity that we had so many dandelions in our backyard...considering that "close to 70 million pounds of pesticides (including herbicides) are applied to US lawns each year which is approximately ten times the amount applied to American farmland, acre for acre." (1), I politely declined.
For me it's one of the most beautiful wild flowers and it tells me that finally spring has sprung.

Our ancestors, knowing about the dandelions' benefits, were smarter, hence the official name: Taraxacum officinale - The official remedy.
But somewhere in the social quest for the perfect lawn the poor dandelion fell into disgrace.

Along with the ungodly amount of pesticides and herbicides that are used for "proper" lawn care, the disappearance of the dandelion proofs to be devastating to the already dwindling bee population.
The dandelion is probably one of the most important early spring wildflower for the bees after the winter. Followed by clover who comes into bloom a little later. The dandelion does not provide enough pollen and nectar for the bees to produce honey but it is vital for the survival of a hive until more flowers start to bloom.

It is kind of ironic that people fight the dandelion so hard to "protect" their lawn since the dandelion is actually good for the soil and in no competition with the grass. Their up to three-foot deep roots loosen and aerate the soil and bring up minerals, which makes them more readily available to other plants once the dandelion dies. Earthworms also like to be around dandelion roots, helping with soil aeration and producing humus at the same time. The long root also helps against erosion.

And what's good for the soil and the bee is also good for us!
Googling "health benefits of dandelion" brings up 970,000 results....., googling "dandelion recipes" results in 3,210,000 hits.
No, I didn't read all of them for this blog, but picked a few highlights to try and share.

Dandelion Tea:
You can use just the flower or the whole dried plant for this tea. I use only the flowers right now by just going outside, pick a handful of blossoms, wash them, let them sit in hot but not quite boiling water for about 8 min and then straining the tea. It has a wonderful herb aroma, in fact I'm sipping on a cup of dandelion tea as I write this. Dandelion tea is said to have a lot of benefits, detoxing through its diuretic effect being the most important.
For more information on dandelion tea, please check out the "Dandelion Tea Benefits" link in the Sources below.

How about some Dandelion Muffins to go with the tea?
Collect about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of dandelion petals, no greens. The easiest way to do this, I found, is harvesting the petals in the morning and pinching out the petals from the middle of the flower.

Choose your flowers wisely and make sure to only get the petals and not some extra critters, since washing the petals would clump them and make them unusable.
For the muffins you will need:

2 cups organic flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1 1/2 cup dandelion petals
1/4 cup organic butter, softened
4 tbsp honey
1 organic free-range egg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 cup organic powdered sugar
1/2 cup dandelion petals
juice of one organic lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix all the ingredients, except the ones for the icing, to a smooth batter. When adding the petals, make sure to avoid clumping.
Pour batter in a prepared muffin tin and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-25 minutes.
Let cool down and take out of the muffin tin.
For the icing mix the powdered sugar with the petals and use so much of the lemon juice to get the consistency of a liquidy paste. Coat the top of the muffins with the icing and let it dry for about an hour.

Adapted from Fat of the Land. The original recipe had oil and milk instead of butter and buttermilk. It had a great texture but the taste just wasn't what I expected, so I tried the above version and liked it much better.

Here another recipe I just got emailed this morning from a German Magazine I'm subscribed to. Since I just got this, I didn't have a chance to try it, but it sure sounds yummy:

Dandelion butter:
You will need:
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup soft butter
1/4 cup washed and finely chopped dandelion leaves
4-5 whole washed dandelion leaves
1 organic lemon
1 tsp honey
sea salt

Mix the butter with the cream cheese and the chopped dandelion leaves, season with the zest of half of the lemon, honey and salt. Add lemon juice to taste. Put in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Then form a roll, wrap it with the whole dandelion leaves and store in the fridge.
Recommended to fresh asparagus!
For my German friends and for everyone who wants to see the photo to it, please click on the "Brigitte Rezept Löwenzahnbutter" link in the sources down below.

Dandelion Oil and Ointment: 
Dandelion flowers are slightly analgesic. Dandelion infused oil is said to relief rheumatoid arthritis  The ointment soothes joint pain or sore muscles after a long day in the garden or a strenuous workout.
To make the oil collect enough dandelion heads to fill a one quart mason jar

have them closly inspected by your cat for quality control...;-)

wash the blossoms and fill them loosely in a 1 quart mason jar. Then cover them with your favorite oil. Suggested oils are olive, almond and sesame oil. I used sesame oil because I like it's silkiness and quick absorption. Stir the mix to release any air bubbles, then cover it with a cheese cloth and fix the cloth with the mason jar ring.

Let it stand on a sunny windowsill for about two to three weeks, until the flowers getting a brownish tint and the oil kind of seperates:

Strain the oil and you have a great massage oil.
To make the ointment, melt beeswax in a double boiler and add the oil in the ratio of 1 part beeswax to 7 parts oil. For 80 gram ointment for example you would use 10 gram beeswax and 70 gram oil. Stir well, pour the mixture into a jar and let cool down.

NOW, just imagine what you can do with all the time that you were planning to spend with pulling out dandelions this could sit down with a good book, while nibbling on a delicious dandelion muffin, sipping a cup of aromatic dandelion tea and getting a relieving massage with dandelion oil. And while doing all this you save bees and enhance your soil without even lifting a finger....

Sources and more information:

Dandelion Tea Benefits

40 Things to do with Dandelion

Brigitte Rezept Löwenzahnbutter 

The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook  

The Dandelion Celebration 

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Dandelions 

(1) Pesticide use on lawns