I think I would like this life. What about you?😍
‘What are you doing today?’
Let’s go mushroom picking.’
Our guide for the day, Latvian blogger Zane Enina ofMugursoma.lv fame tells me that this is a pretty common conversation amongst Latvians during Autumn.
I wonder immediately if they are enough mushrooms for every Latvian to go mushroom picking.
‘50% of Latvia is covered by forests. There are always enough mushrooms for everyone. Plus a whole lot of space to get lost in and escape reality.’
We’re rolling through an open road about 100 kms outside of Riga. We’re surrounded by dense forests and an immense blanket of silence. We’ve been driving for almost 20 minutes from Zane’s house in Vangazi and there’s been nothing but green forests and deep blue skies.
I’m pretty excited about the idea of foraging for food. It has been one of those skills I’ve been always curious to learn more about. My father grew up in a rural part of India where nature’s bounty was rich. The garden of the house he grew up in was more like a jungle. You could find everything here from the freshest (hottest) green chillies
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For many, the unassuming acorns that fall from an oak tree are the bane of those with driveways and front lawns that they’d like to keep clean underfoot. But in recent years, there has been a growing trend towards finding an alternative use for acorns, rather than just raking them together in a seemingly endless heap.
In many ways, acorns are the crystallization of the recent wild, foraged food trend; they are frequently considered an annoyance (like nettles) but are secretly a superfood– a gluten-free nut and grain alternative that’s high in amino acids.
Acorns can also be stored in their shells for years, and– when properly treated– can be used in a multitude of recipes, infusing nutrients and essential vitamins wherever they are added.
Eating acorns is, of course, not a recent trend; along with their progenitor, the oak tree, they have long been revered as a resource, with a rich history in mythologies around the world. In Sanskrit, the word for oak evokes the concept of thunder, life, soul, and spirit; for the Druids, the oak tree was the most sacred tree– so much so that historians believe the word “Druid” itself is from the Celtic word for “acorn”. Abundant as they are, it’s little surprise that acorns have long been consumed both as a delicacy and as an everyday meal.
Acorns are a token of nature’s alchemical magic: a tiny, hardened nut transforms into a tall, wizened tree.
In America, most people know that Native American tribes– particularly those in California– make use of acorns, cooking them into porridge, pancakes, cakes, breads, soups, and patties.
But internationally, different cultures across the world have found their own ways of adopting the nut and incorporating it into their cuisine: in Korea, acorns are transformed into a jelly known as dotorimuk while in Turkey acorns are buried in the dirt to remove tannins (which is the compound that gives acorns their bitter taste) before being washed, dried, and ground with spices into a drink known as raccahout.
Outside of direct human consumption, acorns also have had an important culinary role: jamon iberico, derived from pigs raised on acorns, is considered a Spanish specialty, and oak trees are being planted to help support truffle production. Historically, acorns have also enjoyed uses outside of the gustatory world, used as dye and prepared into a medicine taken by Native American elders to promote longevity.
Today, acorns are becoming more of a mainstream commodity as foraging increasingly becomes a popular activity, one that has spread beyond the realm of picking berries and gathering mushrooms.
Acorns are cropping up in classic recipes (acorn mousse anyone?), especially as acorn flour becomes more readily available and mechanization has cut out the long and arduous process of leaching tannins by oneself (which in days of yore could sometimes take months).
If you do want to
Earth, rivers, mountains and trees! Silent canyons, babbling creeks, and growing green gardens! If you spend time in nature, you’ve probably noticed that you feel happier out there than in here.
But why? One of the better known theories, the “biophilia hypothesis,” suggests that we love nature because we evolved in it. We need it for our psychological well-being because it’s in our DNA. This theory rings true to me. But it’s so broad, it also leaves me grasping for more. What is it about nature and our relationship to it, that brings us so much joy?
I’ve been asking this question for some years now. I’ve studied Ecopsychology, wilderness therapy, and nature-based therapy. In my private psychotherapy practice, I work with clients in nature and bear witness to their experiences. And personally, I spend as much time as I can in nature. Putting all of this together, I’ve developed my own ideas about why nature makes us feel good and helps us heal. Here are the top ten:
10) Nature teaches you that there is nothing wrong with you. Consider:
- When you’re in nature, you don’t have to look at advertising that tries to convince you there’s something wrong with you, in order to sell a product. Nor do you have to look in mirrors. Instead, you’re either focused on the setting around you, or on what you are doing, like climbing, setting up a tent, or gardening. Studies show that people’s body image improves when we spend time in nature, and I think this is part of the reason why.
- When you’re alone in nature, or with a loving friend or group of people, you get sweet relief from sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and all the other ways we oppress, stigmatize and belittle one another.
- On the contrary, nature displays incredible diversity in all her glory. There are fat trees and skinny ones, short ones and tall ones. Within a single clump of yellow flowers, you might see a pink one and realize that it’s a mutation. In nature, we don’t say ‘How wrong! That flower is different; that tree is fat!’ Instead, we say, ‘How beautiful!’ This impacts us below the level of thought.
9) Time slows down.
Urgency, deadlines, and “clock time,” as measured by hours, minutes and seconds, melt away. Clocks teach us to abandon the natural rhythms of our bodies and the
Did you know the Japanese have a word for “forest bathing”? It is shinrin-yoku. As you can imagine from the translation, it just means losing yourself in the forest while enjoying the air, the scents, the vegetation and the sounds of birds and animals that live there. But did you know that there are some amazing health benefits as well? Apart from the obvious ones like getting fresh air and exercise, there are studies that show that a walk in the forest or a park with lots of trees may be the healthiest thing you can do.
1. It may help prevent cancer.
A vital part of our immune system is made up of NK (Natural killer) cells which can fight cancer. Could a walk in the forest really get those cells going? That was what researchers led by Dr. Li of the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, set out to show. They took blood samples from small groups of volunteers before they set out on their forest expedition. They spent two or three days in the forest. After their stay in the forest hotel, their blood was taken again for analysis and it showed a remarkable increase in the NK cell activity which also lasted for a month afterwards. Even a one day forest trip showed an increase in these cells although the long term effects were obviously shorter. Imagine the health benefits of doing this on a regular basis!
2. Scents of the forest may reduce stress.
Scents and smells have a powerful effect on our health and emotions. It seems that smells are closely tied to the emotional center in our brain. This is why certain smells and scents can arouse a sense of nostalgia or other emotions relating to our past.
But can they help reduce stress? This is what researchers at Kyoto University wanted to demonstrate. They asked subjects to evaluate their moods and stress levels on their forest days and on the control days when they were in their normal environment. Their conclusions show that the forest days were crucial in reducing their chronic stress.
As to why this happened, the explanation given by scientists is that pine, fir, cedar and cypress trees contain the phytoncides such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene which make up the essential oils of many plants and trees. These were found to decrease levels of the cortisol stress hormone.
3. It may help with depression.
In an interesting study, Londoners living near trees were found to have better mental health. Even the presence of street trees seemed to have a positive outcome and one study found that areas with