Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Serious Mistake?

Serious Mistake?

I think I made a serious mistake about three weeks ago. It's not been confirmed by lab tests, but I'm being treated with an antibiotic specifically targeting a parasite classified as Giardia. Thankfully, the antibiotic is inexpensive and effective. I'll be on a 10-day routine of one dose every 8 hours. Today I've had two doses so far, and I am feeling better.

Here's the story...

It was a Thursday, lunchtime, and I was sitting in a nearby city park, under a tree. The weather was perfect: mild temperature, clear skies. I remember being intrigued by a squirrel in the highest branches of the pine tree under which I was sitting. The squirrel was eating immature pine cones, rapidly scraping and gnawing, flaking bits of outer hull to the ground, finally tossing the bare core down, and scampering to snag another delicious cone.

Glancing around I noticed a few young dandelion plants. I've eaten dandelion leaves many times, often fresh picked from my yard, rinsed in cold water and used as a salad, or boiled as a potherb.

With no hesitation, with a sort of pride that I was one of the few people that I knew that could forage for food even in a city park, I grabbed a small bit of dandelion leaves, rinsed them with a splash of water and ate them with my sliced turkey sandwich.

They were young, not much bitterness at all, and they added a fresh, healthy taste to my sandwich, although that may have been largely due to my forager's pride.

That was it. I returned to work and then went home, eager to begin preparations for a week's vacation visiting Yellowstone National Park.

However, that evening, after supper, I felt more full than usual, a bit gassy in the gut. The next day the feeling persisted, and I felt less inclined to eat my lunch.

On Saturday we started our journey, traveling in a 16-foot camping trailer. That night I was feeling more gassy, more stomach cramps, not hungry at all.

Then followed two more days of misery, trapped in a travel trailer, away from home, with persistent, foul, runny diarrhea.

A bland diet, lots of tea, lots of water, and time finally seemed to bring my gut back to normal. We were able to spend an entire day in Yellowstone, and we took our time coming back home, camping a few different spots on the way.

I felt okay. Tired, but okay.

I returned to work, still tired, but no problems with the gut.

Until the next weekend.

It was almost the same pattern as before. Fullness, gassy, fatigue turned into merciless, messy diarrhea.

On Monday I called in sick, saw the doctor, discussed options of a stool sample (on the expensive side, and often not conclusive, according to the doctor), off-the-counter symptom relievers, or antibiotics. When I described (hesitantly) my impromptu foraging in the park, he agreed that that might be the cause, but it could be a virus as well (although my wife had not experienced any symptoms).

The deal was sealed, however, when I recalled the similarity between my symptoms and my daughter's when she was about 6 years old. We'd gone camping near a mountain stream. We'd been warned to not drink the water from the stream because Giardia had long been a problem in that area. We sternly warned our daughter not to drink the water, but we did allow her to go wading in the small stream.

A week after the camping trip with our daughter, she began to have recurring, serious bouts of diarrhea. Three days or so of misery, followed by a week of normalcy, only to be followed by another round of foulness. We let it go for a month before seeking help, getting a stool sample, ending with identification of Giardia. A week of antibiotics finally brought an end to the icky cycle of diarrhea.

So, I'm starting my own round of antibiotics, on the assumption that I do have a colony of Giardia in my gut, causing the persistent, recurring bouts of diarrhea.

Lesson learned? It's hard for me to believe that such a small bit of dandelions, that I had rinsed in water, could have initiated such a violent invasion of parasites into my body. It's disappointing to feel suspicious now of plants I find in the park, or anywhere, for that matter. If rinsing in water is insufficient, what can a forager do? Cook everything? Spray with bleach? Stick with store-bought?

I guess, for me, the primary lesson learned is to avoid foraging in city parks. Too many people, too many squirrels, too much chance of herbicide, insecticide or polluted irrigation water.

Giardia: Quick Facts

  • First described in 1681 by Leeuwenhoek
  • Named after zoologist Alfred Giard
  • Lives in intestines of infected humans or animals
  • Infection caused by contact with feces of an infected carrier
  • Giardia may contaminate food, soil or water
  • Symtoms: violent diarrhea, excess gas, stomach cramps, upset stomach, and nausea


Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giardia, for quick facts

Dr. Stan Erlandsen (1988) (Public Health Image Library (PHIL), for image of infected gerbil intestine, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ea/Giardia-spp.--infected--gerbil-intestine.jpg

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria L.)


Aegopodium podagraria L.

Herb Gerarde groweth of it salts in gardens without setting or sowing, and is so fruitful in its increase, that when it hath once taken roote, it will hardly be gotten out againe, spoiling and getting every yeere more ground, to the annoying of better herbes.
--- Gerarde, The Treasury of Botany

After a long, long hiatus I've returned to my forsaken website, with a newly discovered (for me) edible plant!

I snapped a photo of this plant growing in our front yard, planted by the previous owner as a decorative ground cover in the flower garden. It turns out to be edible, although aggressively invasive and hated by many gardeners and homeowners throughout the world.

Naturally, I now love it!

Let's dive into the details and delights of Goutweed!

Carrot Family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae)

Common names

Ashweed, Ashweek, Bishop's Goutweed, Bishop's Weed, Bishop's Elder, Bishop Weed, Bishop Wort, Bishopsweed, Bull Wort, Dog Elder, Dwarf Elder, Eltroot, Farmer's Plague, Garden Plague, Goat's Foot, Goatweed, Goutweed, Ground Ash, Ground Elder, Herb Gerard, Herb William, Jack Jumpabout, Jump About, Pot Ash, Snow-On-The-Mountain, Weyl Ash, White Ash

Origin of the Scientific Name

"Aegopodium is from Greek "agios", meaning goat and "podion", meaning little foot; Little Goat Foot, from the shape of the leaf; "Podagaria" is also Greek, meaning gout of the foot.

The family name, "Apiaceae", comes from "apium", Latin for parsley. But beware! Not all of the plants in the family Apiacea are as edible as parsley or carrot. Some are deadly!

Origin of the Common Names

Seeds become detached and jerked to a distance by the wind, recalling the name 'Jack-jump-about'.

It was called Bishopsweed and Bishopswort, because so frequently found near old ecclesiastical ruins. It is said to have been introduced by the monks of the Middle Ages, who cultivated it as a herb of healing. It was called Herb Gerard, because it was dedicated to St. Gerard, who was formerly invoked to cure the gout, against which the herb was chiefly employed.

The plant is eaten by pigs, hence one of its names.

Plant Uses: Food

Brought to North America from Europe as an ornamental, used as a salad ingredient and potherb in the spring.

Salad ingredient and pot herb; young leaves and stems especially good in salads; older leaves cooked with cheese or added to fritters; made into a German green soup, called "grune suppe".

Leaves, raw or cooked, tangy; best harvested before the plant blossoms.

Rhizomes of Goutweed are NOT edible!

Recipe: Grune Suppe with Goutweed (Green Soup)

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Handful of mushrooms
  • 2 large handfuls of young goutweed, washed well and chopped
  • Vegetable stock

Sautee the onions till soft. Add mushrooms and garlic. Add the potatoes and sautee for 3 minutes or so. Add vegetable stock (about 1 liter) and cook the soup until the potatoes are soft. Add the goutweed and simmer for about 5 minutes. Puree, dilute to desired consistency and add salt, pepper, chilies or other herbs to taste.

Recipe: Goutweed Pesto

(Note: The source of this recipe was a website written in Dutch. I've translated it through Google and edited it for clarity. The introduction is written by the original author of the recipe, not me!)

"If you can not beat 'em, eat' em." Last year I cleared my strawberry bed from all signs of Goutweed, leaves and roots and all, removed one by one by hand. But already Goutweed has completely filled the empty spaces. So, now I pick them and eat them!

  • 2 handfuls of young Goutweed
  • 1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • olive oil
  • pepper and salt

Put all ingredients (except the oil) in a food processor and run it briefly until well mixed, but not pureed. With food processor running, trickle olive oil until pesto has a nice, creamy texture. Enjoy on tomato soup or freshly baked bread! Serves 4.

Plant uses: Medicinal

All parts of the plant are diuretic; used to treat rheumatism, arthritis and bladder disorders.

Plant Dimensions

Typically 4-12 inches high, but may grow up to about three feet tall; leaves 2-3 inches long

Plant Type

Forb, with roots long, white and branching, stem erect and hollow

Fruit Type

Seeds small, similar in shape to carrot seeds


Leaves medium green in the wild; domesticated plants are variegated, with bluish-green leaves and creamy white edges; flowers are white

Flower Shape, Petals, and Arrangement

Umbel cluster, five petals

Leaf Shape, Arrangement, Attachment and Surface Traits

Glabrous, alternate, lobes ovate and sharply toothed

Leaves basal, divided into three groups of three leaflets, toothed, irregularly lobed


The veins of Goutweed terminate at the tip of a tooth. In the toxic hemlocks the veins terminate between the teeth. In the photo above, water hemlock is on the left, and Goutweed is on the right.


Funki Sock Munki, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mookmonkey, for Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum' image, https://flic.kr/p/6i7YP5, Creative Commons, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Plant Conservation Alliance's Alien Plant Working Group, https://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/aepo1.htm, accessed 04JUL2016, for plant description

U.S. Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/aegpod/all.html, accessed 04JUL2016, for plant descriptions

Botanical.com, A Modern Herbal, http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/goutwe32.html, accessed 10JUL2016, plant description, common names and origins, and uses

Eat The Weeds, http://www.eattheweeds.com/gout-weed/, accessed 09JUL2016, for plant descriptions, names and origins, plant uses, and the warning against water hemlock

Crafty Kitchen Witchery, http://craftykitchenwitchery.blogspot.com/2013/08/goutweed-my-kitchen-witchy-herb-of-week.html, accessed 10JUL2016, for Grune Suppe recipe

Cathelijne, http://www.cathelijne.nl/2012/zevenbladpesto/, accessed 10JUL201, for Goutweed Pesto recipe

John Lindley and Thomas Moore, authors of "The Treasury of Botany; a Popular Dictionary of the Vegetable Kindom", for the introductory quotation from Gerarde, https://books.google.com, accessed 31JUL2016, Public Doman, published by Longmans, Green, and Company, 1870

Wikimedia.org, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACicuta_douglasii_%26_Conium_maculatum_1459205.jpg, for image of water hemlock leaf veins

Wikimedia.org, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAegopodium_podagraria_(18672687233).jpg, for image of Goutweed leaf veins

Idaho Mountain Wildflowers, http://www.larkspurbooks.com/apiaceae1.html, for origin of the family name, accessed 31JUL2016