As I travel this month to Iceland (my first international trip in almost two years!) I'm thinking a lot about the ecology of different spaces. Here in Atlanta, we're surrounded by forest, where deciduous trees intermingle with coniferous ones, which hunker under the eaves of our homes or tower over our roofs. *
Iceland, on the other hand, is a far cry from the ecology of the deep American South. For one thing, there are far more hot springs, but, as far as I can tell, there are far fewer trees.
But even without the towering oaks and hickories of my home, there's more in common than we might think.
Throughout the forests and plains of our planet, a secret network exists when we peek underground.
In Merlin Sheldrake's Entangled Life, he talks about the history and future of a large, complex network of communication between trees, where nutrients, messages and more are passed through a fungal web: A mycorrhizal fungal network colloquially called 'the wood wide web'.
In 2019, scientists began to map out this web, showing a vast community that cares for members who are ill, sending warnings of distress, and even allowing parent trees to nourish their offspring, giving them the best chance for a healthy life (Sheldrake also notes that parent trees, when they pass, release the nutrients stores in their bodies through this network through to offspring: A final gift of care and nourishment).
Well before we knew what a mycorrhizal fungal network was, our ancestors sensed the interconnection of forests, and their inextricable connection to ourselves: The Druidic ogham alphabet as well as Indigenous North American forest stewardship traditions, for example, both acknowledge all the ways we are cared for by trees (food, shelter, etc.) and can care for them in turn.
The ogham tree alphabet, along with symbols made from crossed lines, includes 'word oghams,' phrases used to describe those trees. These phrases, such as 'faded trunk and fair hair' for birch, humanize the trees, making them partners in our shared environment.
Going back to the kitchen, trees can inspire us to feel connected to place and to cook using the ingredients and techniques inherent to that place. And trees remind of us seasonality too, even as an ingredient may exist across seasons: Edible tree leaves are mostly only edible in spring, after which they become tough, bitter, and more likely to contain toxins.
But trees are also just one part of each landscape we find ourselves within, and there are lessons to be learned from everything from mosses to microbes.
Considering my own environment in contrast to others makes me so grateful for the landscape I exist in, as well as the fact that I have the opportunity to experience others.
How does your landscape influence what you eat, and how you eat it? Do you incorporate elements of the natural world (say, wildcrafted plants) into your dishes? Or do you change the types of foods you make to correspond to the weather outdoors? Or do you do something else?
On July first, Root members took a journey through evocative words and the recipes connected to them, which you can read about here.
This month, we're offering two special summertime discounts:
20% off all classes with code TIMEFORTREES
$15 off your first Herbs, Ferments, + Art CSAwith the code FORESTFRIENDS
Use one, or use both, and feel free to forward them to your friends!
If you’re a Root member (either through or website or Patreon, or as a paid Substack subscriber) you can combine these with your usual 10% discount !
The Hidden Cosmos oracle + recipe deck will be available for preorder next month, and folks who order early will get an extra special gift!
Also next month, my newest class, Ferments for Mindfulness, will be released through The Fermentation School.
It's a fun, creative way to use your time in the kitchen to de-stress.
Speaking of trees, this Appalachian man has rescued over 1,000 apple varieties.
And speaking of tree-based foods, I share my perennial favorite recipe for green pinecone syrup here.
It is absolutely divine stirred into a whiskey cocktail, but equally at home in marinades and sauces for hearty meats and roast vegetables that can stand up to a piney punch, or even in refreshing lemonades and ice creams (that issue just happens to have my ice cream recipe in it, too).
In the world of microbes, this article starts with a helpful chart that attempts to classify the world's ferments.
And microbes lended a helping hand in Italy, where art restorers used bacteria to clean Michaelangelo's masterpieces.
If you want to curl up with a good book this summer, here's a list of the best novels about food, a tour of African gastronomy, the food of medieval Iceland, and a peek into the world of art cookbooks.
This list also has some good catharsis cookbooks, for those of us who need to cook away some frustration.
Studio Atao's latest toolkit helps us implement changes for equitable representation in food media, and is a great resource for those of us writing about + reading about food.
For those feeling nostalgic, The Museum of Endangered Sounds captures the bings, chirps, and rings of technologies past, and reminds us that our auditory environment changes with the world around us (like I muse about here).
What I'm making: clay face masks
Outdoor adventures in the summer heat tend to leave my skin in need of some extra TLC. This particular remedy mixes elements from the earth, the trees that spring from it, and the bees that pollinate them, and the combination is an absolute delight.
You can use a drop of myrrh and/or a drop of frankincense essential oil as your 'tree' element: Both are great when applied to the skin, and it's said that the combination of the two helps to fade and heal scar tissue too.
This mask work best if you spread a thin layer over your face to avoid overdrying your skin.
1/2 cup French green clay (like this one)
1/2 cup bee pollen granules
frankincense and myrrh essential oils
-In a blender or food processor (or with mortar and pestle), grind your clay and pollen granules to break up the pollen. Store the mixture in an airtight jar until ready for use.
-To use: Add about 1 tbsp mixture to a bowl or the palm of your hand, adding in a drop each of the essential oils, if desired.
-Mix in enough water to make a thin paste, spreading over clean skin avoiding eyes and any broken skin.
-Allow to dry, and gently rinse with cool water.
*Atlanta's forests and rivers are in a precarious situation right now, and need our support.