|By Steven Martyn|
Spring is miraculously birthed from the Earth. From the smallest shoots can come gargantuan roots.
Some of the parsnips we dug out recently were two feet long and four inches wide! Over fifty pounds of lovely sweet firm parsnips came from a small bed. Last fall, the bed was mulched, and left to overwinter.
I used to dream of the day I was settled and organized enough to have a good, early spring, parsnip harvest. Spring parsnips are a fresh root crop that can be stored into early summer. It’s important to have crops to harvest and eat ‘fresh’ while everything else is just starting to grow. Sweet, spring, parsnips are so good, and go well with other seasonal wild gifts like leeks, asparagus, morels and maple syrup. Grated fresh in salad, with seasonal greens; boiled, broiled, krauted, fried, caramelized, souped, baked or mashed… Yum. Some dreams are more graspable then others, and so, we have been blessed with a bounty of spring parsnips for many years now. And, like the bounty of sap and syrup, the parsnip harvest, the sweet gift of these golden roots, has become an essential part of our dance with spring.
Parsnips, wild or domestic, are tricky to germinate. They like cold, moist, conditions and stratification, which they get during a freeze-thaw cycle. So, for the best germination rate you can shallowly plant, or rake in her seeds, early spring or late in the fall, just before ground freeze-up or in spring while the nights are still freezing. The roots from these seeds will be ready the following fall, but are best harvested in the following early spring. So, a bit like garlic, they are biannual plants; their planting and harvest times are out of sync with all the other annual garden plants.
If we look at the seeds of a plant, they can tell a lot about the plant’s nature. We can see the plant’s character by the seed’s shape, size and smell. We can also see what their needs are to grow. This holds true, from Walnuts, to the fine spore-like seeds of Orchids and Lobelia.
Parsnips, and many other members of the carrot family, have small seeds that are surrounded by a fibrous disc or rays, many times the seed’s size. When these plants drop their seed, they want them to stay on the surface, and germinate quickly. The disc surrounding the seed prevents it from falling down small cracks or holes in the soil, as many other types of seed are designed to do. The sheath also acts as a protective barrier, and at the right time, as a blotter to soak up, and maintain moisture around the germinating seed. The seed sheath is like a womb to the seed. The plant family’s seeds have strong medicinal effect on hormones and fertility.
Their brilliant design helps them to germinate during the cool wet times of fall and early spring. Not surprisingly, these seeds have very poor long-term viability. Under regular storage conditions for seeds or spices, (cool, dark and dry), their viability and strength will barely make it through to the following spring. Part of this viability challenge can be solved, through cold storage of the seeds. This storage method mimics how they are designed to overwinter. It is in the design and character of carrot family seeds to ripen during summer and fall off in the late fall winter or spring, and to germinate quickly. Other plant seeds, that are designed to fall deeper into the soil, can still be viable after decades. These more streamlined seed types, overwinter deep enough that they germinate and grow later in the spring or summer, when the soil warms.
The physical traits of a plant, and its seeds, reflects their nutritional and healing powers. The carrot family seeds, like carrots, parsnips, dill, fennel, angelica and many others, are all loaded with volatile oils, that protects them from pathogens in their environment, and also makes them powerful species and medicine. The oil from these seeds, like their viability, is strong at first but very short-lived. The oils mostly evaporate in a couple months, if left on the plant. Wild carrot seeds, which can be used as a contraceptive, or to increase fertility, must be stored fresh, in a freezer, to remain effectives for a year, until you can pick her fresh again. This family has a very short storage time, both medicinally and in terms of viability. By the time their seeds are dry enough to store in an airtight container, the oils will be mostly gone.
The character of these plants is reflected in their action as a medicine or spice. While they are used most by women, these plants have a very yang energy, high vibration, acting quickly, and is strong. Their character, embodied in the oils of their leaves and seeds, can cut right through heavy ‘lower-vibrational’ food like the oily, strong tasting meats and fish. In cutting through these heavy strong proteins and fats, these plants are telling us something; that they can remedy the maladies caused by over consumption of these foods. They not only cut through, but also help us digest and assimilate the meal’s nutrients. As a medicine, the volatile character of the carrot family in general, acts strongly and quickly on our digestion, and strengthens our adrenal and hormonal systems.
We can see (and taste) this knowledge by spending time with a seed, and listening to it. Seeds are living time capsules; they are alive. When we plant them, we are killing their dreamtime life, to create a new life. When we eat seeds or collect them to plant, we are working with the plant’s essence, which will heal and nurture us, as she healed and nurtured the land where she grew.
I hope you all have a wild Beltane, and thank you, to all those of you who have signed on for the “spring wild edibles workshop”; I hope you like parsnips.
To everyone else, this is the last week to register for the Sacred Gardeners’, 5 day Spring Wild Edible Workshop (May 6-10). Come for a life changing experience. There are still a few spots available, call or register on-line.