Thursday, October 15, 2020

EDDIE VAN HALEN: TEEN MEMORIES

 TEEN MEMORIES OF EDDIE VAN HALEN

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

 

It was late Sunday night, and Eddie Van Halen had died 4 days earlier.  My wife and I were on our way home and we were talking about my memories of Eddie. We felt inspired to go see the Van Halen landmark, the curb where Eddie carved his family name in wet cement many decades ago. 



It was past 10 p.m. when we arrived at the curbside candle-lit landmark.  “There it is,” I said.  Fans had written messages on the sidewalk and left candles and paraphernalia all around the Van Halen inscription.  Large letters spelling out VANHALEN decorated the lower walls of the line of stores. 

As my wife and I took a few photos, fans continued to stop and take pictures, and talk about how they wish they had met Eddie. As I was telling stories to my wife of my high school youth, some people overheard and asked if I really knew Eddie.



“Yes, I knew Eddie,” I told them. “We hung out together in high school.” 

People were impressed that someone who actually hob-knobbed with the Great Eddie could be there on that dark night.  One man, a true devoted fan, drove over from Long Beach to honor the man’s shrine.  A group of young people showed up, most dressed in hard rock-black – one with a guitar, and two with long hair just like Eddie -- to pay homage to The Man.  These young men and women, were  too young to know Eddie in the day, but old enough to have listened to and admired his music.   During our short visit, maybe two dozen people came by and drove by to see the shrine.



I knew Eddie well enough.  It began when I went to John Muir High School with David Roth, taking Spanish with Roth, and circulating in the same social circles.   It was through David that I got to know Eddie Van Halen and the band.   David Roth dated the sister of my best friend, and through Joe and Debbie Sierra, and John Linthurst, and the John Muir Conservation Club, I got to know David, and through David, I often went to the parties as the unpaid group photographer. 

Eddie attended Pasadena High School on the other side of town, so we saw Eddie and the band on the weekends, or when the band was practicing in the sound-proofed back room of Homer Dollar’s home on Maiden Lane. My close friend John Linthurst rented the Dollar place, and so John would call me when the band was out back practicing, and I bicycled the short few blocks from my parents’ house to listen, and take pictures.

I liked Eddie.  He was friendly, open, never conceited or preoccupied with himself as a star.  I liked his smile and his enthusiasm.  He very much reminded me of the humble nature of Jimi Hendrix.  No, I never met Jimi, but I recall his quote saying that he never thought he was that good on guitar, and that he had so much more work to do.  The true and deep artists are often that way, deep into the art, always looking for ways to improve and conquer the next challenge.  So Eddie was like that – much more than an entertainer. He was the consummate artist.

I  met Eddie, David, and the band in 1971 or ’72,  during the time that they were evolving from “Mammoth” to “Van Halen.”  We could not miss Eddie’s excellence.  Of course, the fans  focused on David too  – he was the lead singer.  In our little social group of friends and schoolmates, I don’t recall that anyone ever believed the group would hit the big time. Still, when we sat around talking about the things that high school people talked about, the talk would get around to Van Halen, and to Eddie. 

I recall once when a friend was describing how Eddie was so good on guitar that he could exactly replicate Jimmy Page’s Led Zepplin songs, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton of Cream, and others. Eddie could replicate these masters so well that you could close your eyes and believe you were listening to them.  Eddie was good, and everyone knew it.

I often felt a kinship with Eddie because our birthdays were so close.  We were born in the same year, 1955, and he was born on January 26, about 2 weeks after my birth in Pasadena.  Eddie was born in Amsterdam, and in 1967, his family settled into Pasadena.  Born of musically talented parents, both Eddie and Alex were playing music from their early years.  Eddie once shared that he’d never learned to read music, and that he just practiced all the time and learned to improvise.

My personal interactions with Eddie – mostly during the pre-fame days -- were brief and spotty, though he left a special mark on me.    

I was their periodic photographer.  When Van Halen was getting started, I was getting started with  journalism at John Muir High School, and David always saw me with a camera – either super 8 video or 35 mm.  He invited me to take their pictures, so I would drive with the band in their packed van to take photos at their gigs at the Cucamonga Connection.  I also went to the Pasadena Civic, and various Pasadena backyards.  One such backyard was within walking distance of my parents’ home on Los Robles Avenue. 

David Roth always seemed to take the center stage and was the idol of all the teenage girls, which continued to bring in the crowds at their rented halls or backyards.  Still, there would have been no Van Halen band without Eddie.  And certainly, Alex the drummer kept the musical composition tightly woven with his technical mastery. 

Though David seemed to do most of the talking and singing, Eddie did most of the smiling. Gregarious, positive, always friendly.   I know that lots happened once they signed record deals and began touring, and I rarely saw any of them anymore.  I would read about Eddie in the newspaper, or hear something on the radio, and always wondered how much was truth, and how much just part of the developing myth.  I prefer to remember Eddie as the young and innocent teen who was my friend, and who never seemed puffed up with pride, and could genuinely smile at anyone in his circle, including me.  I feel that Eddie played for the pure love of it, for the manifest expression of excellence, with no rival in recent memory except possibly Jimi Hendrix.

After we finished talking with the young fans at the street memorial, we went to the old Van Halen family home where a similar shrine had been set up.  However, this felt different.  It was quiet and dark.  A couple quietly moved along as we walked up to the house.  A few candles were lit on the sidewalk, barely making the shrine visible.  There was a spiritual quality here, a solemn silence, and it felt as if Eddie was back at his old home, looking at friends and fans who came, pondering now whatever is next.  I was there as a friend, not a “fan,” and I quietly let thoughts of Eddie fill my mind, in this place where the spirit of Eddie would be if it was anywhere. 


After some moments of quiet reflection, we drove home.  

Eddie, we’ll miss your smile and your musical genius.  May your journey be filled with peace.



Saturday, April 04, 2020

THE BIOSCARF -- especially now


The Bioscarf: A big scarf with a built-in N95 filter



PRODUCT REVIEW

By Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and other books. He has been leading survival classes since 1974.  More information at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]



BIOSCARF SPECS

Weight:  19.4 oz

Width:  84 inches

Length: 9 inches

Material:  100% polyester that is made from recycled PET water bottles and recycled PVC

Source:  https://www.g95.com/?rfsn=3861014.66a45d




I recently had the opportunity to test something called the “bioscarf.”  Yes, it’s a scarf, and everyone knows I like scarfs.  I’ve worn them all my life.  I used to love alpaca wool scarves, and find their comfort impeccable.  But then I was given a Polartech scarf, which is a polyester product that strives to duplicate wool without any itching or scratching.  I have come to prefer my Polartech scarves, which are also easy to clean and dry. 


I like long scarves too, but not the very long scarves that really get in the way.  I cannot get the story of the famous dancer Isadora Duncan out of my mind, who loved very very long silk scarves, and she enjoyed wearing them in her convertible.  She was 50 years old at the time, she was driving one day in September, 1927 in Nice, France, and her enormously-long scarf got caught in the rear hubcabs of her car!  It was a ghastly accident and she was strangled to death.  When you read about Duncan, you’d think her great legacy is that she had a famous dancing career, but the first think you read about is that she was strangled to death by her scarf.   Well, I don’t drive a convertible and I cannot imagine wearing a scarf that must have been 10 or 12 feet long, or longer!


Anyway, the bioscarf that I had the opportunity to use and test actually measures in at seven feet long, and 9 inches wide. That’s big, but not too big to get caught in your car’s or motorcycle’s wheels.  Bicyclists should be careful though.


I like its size.  It’s long, but not quite too long.  You have enough scarf to know you’re wearing a scarf and not forget it.  It comes in white, olive, black, and camo, and since I had the choice of color, I couldn’t resist the camo.  But its main selling point is not the size – it’s what’s hidden inside the fabric.


Bioscarf is actually a stylish air mask that keeps your neck and head cozy while filtering out unwanted air contaminants, germs, second hand smoke, pollen and other allergens. This can protect you from colds, flus, pneumonia, tuberculosis and allergens.  Bioscarf is the first scarf with an N95 air filter layer built right into the inner layer  of the scarf.


When tested by Nelson Labs against normal masks and respirators,  the bioscarf outperformed some of the most popular masks available today with a 99.75% average filtration efficiency. In addition to doing its job effectively,  the bioscarf is made from sustainable materials. Post-consumer recycled PET water bottles go into the fabric, while the signature labels are made from recycled PVC. It is also built to be long lasting and reusable, meaning less disposable air filters in the landfill.   And this filter is reusable – just wash the scarf by hand from time to time after use.


So, if you’re in a situation where you might otherwise put on a face mask, you can just wrap the scarf over your mouth and nose, and breathe through it.  Maybe you’re an allergy sufferer, visiting somewhere with poor air quality, on you’re on a bus or plane where everyone is sneezing and coughing.   Maybe you’re on a campout and the smoke from the campfire is excessive.  Bioscarf will give you some protection.


I like the multi-use aspect of the bioscarf, and when I’m wearing mine, it gives me the feeling of being protected, as if I’m living in a Mad Max, Book of Eli, or Bladerunner, world.  Of course,  that’s a crazy idea, since everyone in those futuristic dystopian societies would probably be wearing rags.  Still, the bioscarf is one of those multi-purpose garments that you’ll be glad  you purchased. It’s functional, and provides a layer of protection that other scarves just don’t provide. 

They run about $45, and are available at eartheasy.com, or Amazon.


COMFORT

I’ve had the opportunity to wear this scarf in cold weather, and found it to be a bit warmer than a comparable scarf.  This is probably because it’s not just a single layer of fabric, but actually 3 layers.  The scarf is not thick however, and it has the comfortable feel of a “normal” scarf.   The length is a bit longer than most scarves, and so you have just a bit more fabric that you can wrap around your neck, or your face.


Washing Instructions: Hand wash only

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Meet Victor Migenes



Some of the old-timers in L.A. might remember Victor and his father’s traditional landmark cigar factory in downtown L.A., La Plata Cigars established in 1947, where the finest cigars were made by Cubans.  We first met Victor when we read about La Plata in the L.A. Times, and a group of us took a field trip into downtown L.A. to visit.  What a place! The walk-in humidor was amazing, and it was quite educational to watch his workers roll cigars.

Victor is also known around town as a drummer in several bands. notably Dance Hall Pimps, but these days he pays his bills as a realtor.


Victor Migenes is an old-school hard-working realtor in Northeast Los Angeles.  We meet at the Old L.A. Farmers Market on Marmion Way one Tuesday, and over some excellent non-GMO tamales, we discussed the local real estate market, mostly for my edification.

Migenes, who works for Keller-Williams Realty and Property Concierges Brokerage, points out that the Northeast L.A. market has changed considerably over the past several years, a point which has also been an issue of controversy. 

He points out that buying into Highland Park was a bit cheaper than buying, for example, in Los Feliz or Silver Lake, and younger executives moved in over the past several years, purchased Craftsmen homes and bungalows, and renovated them.  Some were just flippers, but many came to stay.  The trend, which has occurred in many U.S. cities, is called  Gentrification.

The word “gentrification” means different things to different people, depending on whether you are a renter, a buyer, a seller, or someone who has lived in the neighborhood for generations.

“Remember,” says Migenes, “that many of the younger executives from the entertainment industry saw Highland Park and the overall Northeast as an affordable  beginning of home ownership.  They felt priced-out of Silverlake and the more popular areas, and they moved to Highland Park and began fixing things up.”

He’s empathetic towards those who have been displaced by the changes that have occurred.  Still, Migenes, as a realtor, works to help people sell their homes, or to buy the best possible home. His job is to help buyers and sellers avoid the many pitfalls that can occur during the buy and sell process.
He points out that you can buy a house in Texas for about $240,000, and a similar house here will cost you about $800,000!  “Why?” I ask.  “Because everyone wants to live here. It’s all about demand that drives up the price,” he tells me.

“The entertainment industry has changed, and continues to grow in our area.  Fewer young executives are buying into Hollywood unless they have some attachment to that area, and the entertainment industry is today more focused in Glendale and Burbank,” he says.  And the Northeast is regarded as a more affordable segue to home ownership.

His advice to buyers is to consult with a good realtor, and to get to know the individual character of the neighborhoods.  Even if the prices seem to be on the higher end, Migenes believes that most of the neighborhoods have improved for the better in the Northeast.

“Still, even though it’s a sellers market today and the prices seem to be on the high end, the buyer should be very picky about where to buy.  You have to consider how long you want to be there.  For those who intend to stay, and be a part of the neighborhood, your home values are going to rise over the long run of say the next 10 years.”

Areas that seem to be over-priced, where there is a lot of renovation both in residential and commerce growth, are the very areas that will maintain or increase in value over time, advised Migenes.
“There are still pockets here and there that I would avoid,” adds Migenes, and that’s the sort of thing that you can find out by asking around.

I told Migenes about real estate predictions that I’d read about on line, mostly from people who were selling a financial newsletter.  “Subscribe to our newsletter and you’ll survive the financial collapse of western civilizatioin” seemed to be their selling point.

Migenes smiled, and said, “We do not have a crystal ball. Some actually thought that there would be a minor crash two years ago in the housing market, but that didn’t happen, largely because of the maintaining of low interest rates by the Federal Reserve.  But at some point, there is an adjustment. It always happens.  When it becomes a buyers’ market, in the wave of time, the prices may dip or level off.  That always happens in a changing market. So if you need to buy, you need to  buy smart. And over the long term, you will earn some good equity.”

As for advice for those who need to sell, Migenes says that if you have a well-maintained, but older house in good condition, paint goes a long way.  “By that, I mean professional painting. But don’t make it personal.  Do neutral tones so the next buyer can visualize more readily how they may want to personalize it later.

He does not recommend renovations of bathrooms or kitchens, since it may be more money than you’ll get back from that work, and you don’t really know what the buyer may  want.  Instead, Migenes advises sellers to make sure the plumbing and electrical systems are sound.

Landscaping can also add a good appeal to the house you are trying to sell, but keep it simple.

 [Victor Migenes can be reached at  (213) 718-3558.]

[Nyerges is the director of the School of Self-Reliance, and author of books on self-reliance. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"SEIKEN WAY" -- a new book by Barton Boehm


BOOK REVIEW



“Lessons from a 21st Century Samurai.  SEIKEN WAY.  Completing the Circle, A True Story” by Barton Boehm with Don Howell.


[“Seiken Way” is available as a paperback from Amazon.com, or as a Kindle download].


In the late 1970s, when I first moved into Highland Park,  I could count on one hand the three individuals who “knew everything,” mentors who I could go to with questions, concerns, problems.   Two of them have since passed away.


The third is Barton Boehm (pronounced “beam”).   I met Boehm through my association with the non-profit WTI. Boehm was introduced as a friend of the non-profit’s founder, and as a martial arts master.   


After the Korean War, Boehm found a master living in Japan, and moved into the master’s home and became his full-time student for five years.  His story is remarkable!


As I got to know Boehm better, I became his student, taking classes in his home dojo. There, during my private evening classes,  I learned about holds, and getting out of holds, and falling, and punching, and all the ways to quickly avoid a fight, or to never start it in the first place.


“You don’t want to fight,” Boehm would tell me in his gregarious voice.  “People get hurt when you fight.  You want to end a fight as quickly as it begins. You want to dispatch your opponent as rapidly as possible, and get out of there.”  Needless to say, Boehm was not a fan of the martial arts movies where fights go on for 30 minutes, with actors flying from rooftop to rooftop, breaking bricks, and continuing the battle in every possible position.


When we discussed the popular Kung Fu TV series with David Carradine, Boehm pointed out how “Caine” often had many opportunities to avoid a fight, and when he did fight, it often went on way beyond what was necessary to end it.


We had many discussions every night after our practice sessions.  I particularly enjoyed the stories Boehm shared about his training with his master, Peter Kiyoshi Suzuki.  I taped many of those conversations because they were so full of insight. Plus, they were highly entertaining: Some were funny, some deeply profound, and all had a highly pragmatic nature.


I taped all my conversations with Boehm, with the goal of working with him to one day produce a book of his experiences and insights.  I knew it would be a book like no other, for Boehm’s five years of daily training, living with the Master, was unlike any I’d ever heard.  But we never finished the book project. Then I got divorced, moved, and re-married.  Years went by. My second wife and I sponsored stick-fighting classes with Boehm in our backyard where he shared the psychology of the Samurai, and ways to stop the fight before it gets started.   More years went by. My second wife died, and that was 10 years ago, and Boehm now lived too far away for regular lessons.


Imagine my great happiness at receiving a package in the mail with Boehm’s book!  He did it!  The book is an incredible introduction to his Master’s system, Seiken. The book’s full title is “Lessons from a 21st Century Samurai: Seiken Way, Completing the Circle, A true Story.”


During my off and on training with Boehm, I got glimpses of how Boehm met his Master after the Korean War, Peter Kiyoshi Suzuki, and how Boehm then lived with the master for about 5 years, sleeping barely more than 4 hours a night, 7 days a week, and losing 50 pounds after his first two years.  It was a story of a man desiring “Power,” but, as Boehm told me, “I didn’t know what that meant at the time.”  Boehm’s stories to me were filled with how Suzuki trained Boehm to repeat endlessly until a new technique was mastered, and to always “feel” what you were doing, and focus on the goal, so you don’t get lost in roteness. Boehm’s stories were also filled with fascinating stream of people that he met through his master, who was blind.


“The Seiken Way” fills in a lot of the gaps in Boehm’s training that I never heard, such as the early days of meeting Suzuki, and how Suzuki’s wife and two children responded to having a hakujin, or white man, living with them in their small barracks-like home in a low income part of the town. 


“The Seiken Way” points out that the full system taught by Suzuki is not just training the body, but also training the mind and the spirit.  Boehm’s book explores all the major aspects of his training, and how a blind man developed and mastered several entire systems; this book focuses only on Seiken, meaning “kind hand,” the system taught to Boehm.  The full name of the system is Wado Goshin SeiKen Jitsu, the wide, deep, kind hand system.


If you’re looking for a how-to book on martial arts systems, this is not that book.  (In fact, no one learns martial arts from a book – you must learn directly with a teacher).  But this book shows how the dedication of one man led him on the path of his own self-awareness, where he realized that he could and would even kill for his Master. Eventually, Boehm saw that his relationship with Suzuki was unhealthy, and he came back to his home in the United States.  He realized that he’d become a Master in his own right, and his book is one of his ways to pass along that hard-earned knowledge that he gained through his unique and painful experiences. 


Boehm is now 71 and retired from an engineering career, and continues to teach the few students who’ve stayed with him.


His book is highly recommended to anyone seeking an insight into the world of Japanese martial arts.  I regard the book as both a standard, and a classic.  Interestingly, in a disclaimer in the beginning of the book, Boehm states that the writing is biographical based on real events “but is a work of fiction” because the actual conversations and details of the interactions were necessarily re-created from memory or imagination in order to re-tell the story.  This admission does not diminish the quality or the significance of this work.


[Nyerges is an author and teacher, and can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

Friday, November 22, 2019

On Thanksgiving





[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” “Enter the Forest” and other books.  He leads courses in the native uses of plants.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance..com]




I was at a local coffee shop and met a man who had read something I previously wrote about the historical origins of Thanksgiving, and what happened, and what didn’t happen.



“I was a little puzzled after I read it,” Burt told me.  “I understand that the first historical Thanksgiving may have not happened the way we are told as children,” he told me, “but how did we get to where we are today?  What I understood from your writing that there are historical roots, and that we today remember those roots and try to be very thankful, but the connection was unclear.”  Burt and I then had a very long conversation.



A newspaper column is typically not long enough to provide the “big picture” of  the entire foundation of such a commemoration, as well as all the twists and turns that have occurred along the way. But here is the condensed version of what I told my new friend Burt.



First, try reading any of the many books that are available that describe the first so-called “first Thanksgiving” at the Plymouth colony that at least attempts to also show the Indigenous perspective.  You will quickly see that this was not simply the European pilgrims and the native people sitting down to a great meal and giving thanks to their respective Gods, though that might have occurred.  In fact, both the indigenous peoples and the newcomers had thanksgiving days on a pretty regular basis.



As you take the time to explore the motives of the many key players of our so-called “first Thanksgiving,” in the context of that time, you will see that though the Europeans were now increasingly flowing into the eastern seaboard, their long-term presence had not been allowed – until this point. Massasoit was the political-military leader of the Wampanoag confederation, which was the stronger native group in the area.  However, after disease had wiped out many of the native people, Massasoit was worried about the neighboring long-time enemies – the Narragansett -- to the west. The gathering of the European leaders of the Plimouth Colony and Massasoit and entourage had been more-or-less brokered by Tisquantum (aka Squanto) who spoke English. 



Yes, there had been much interaction between the new colonists and native people for some time, and this gathering of 3 days in 1621 was intended to seal the deal between the colonists aligning with Massasoit.  The exact date is unknown, but it was sometime between September 21 and November 9.



Yes, historians say that a grand meal followed, including mostly meat.  The colony remained and there was relative peace for the next 10 to 50 years, depending on which historians were correct in their reading of the meager notes.  The historical record indicates that the new colonists learned how to hunt, forage, practice medicine, make canoes and moccasins, and much more, from the indigenous people. Even Tisquantum taught the colonists how to farm using fish scraps, ironically, a bit of farming detail he picked up during his few years in Europe.



Politicians and religious leaders continued to practice the giving of thanks, in their churches and in their communities, and that is a good thing. They would hearken back to what gradually became known as the “first Thanksgiving” in order to give thanks for all the bounty they found and created in this new world, always giving thanks to God!  But clearly, the indigenous people would have a very different view of the consequences of this 1621 pact, which gradually and inevitably meant the loss of their lands and further decimation of their peoples from disease.  Of course, there was not yet a “United States of America,” and it was with a bit of nostalgia and selective memory that we refer to this semi-obscure gathering of two peoples as some sort of foundational event in the development of the United States. And it is understandable from the perspective of a national mythology that the native people were forgotten and the “gifts from God” remembered. 



My new friend Burt was nodding his head, beginning to see that there was much under the surface of this holiday. I recommended that he read such books as “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Mann,  “Native American History: Idiot’s Guide” by Fleming, and others.



As I still believe, giving thanks is a good thing – good for the soul and good for the society.  Just be sure to always give thanks where it is due!



Eventually, in the centuries that followed, Thanksgiving was celebrated on various days in various places.  George Washington declared it an official Thanksgiving in 1789.  However, the day did not become standardized as the final Thursday each November until 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.



The gross commercialization of Thanksgiving is a somewhat recent manifestation of the way in which we have tried to extract money from just about anything.  One way to break that cycle is to just choose to do something different.



When I used to visit my parents’ home for annual Thanksgiving gatherings, I disliked the loud arguing and banter, the loud TV in the background, and the way everyone (including me) ate so much that we had stomach aches!  I felt that Thanksgiving should be about something more than all that.  I changed that by simply no longer attending, and then visiting my parents the following day with a quiet meal.  It took my parents a few years to get used to my changes, but eventually they did.



These days, most holidays have a whole host of diverse symbols, and Thanksgiving is no different.  And like most modern holidays, their real meanings are now nearly-hopelessly  obscured by the massive commercialism.  Nevertheless, despite the tide that is against us, we can always choose to do something different.  Holidays are our holy days where we ought to take the time to reflect upon the deeper meanings.  By so doing, we are not necessarily “saving” the holiday, but we are saving ourselves.  As we work to discover the original history and meanings of each holiday, we wake up our minds and discover a neglected world hidden in plain sight.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Poor Man's Quinoa


Learn to recognize and use this valuable plant

[Nyerges is the author of “Foraging California,” “Nuts and Berries of California,” “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” and other books on self-reliance. He has led foraging walks since 1974.  He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]



These days, everyone wants to eat the hip “new” nutritional foods: kale, chia, quinoa, and many of the others that are found in the latest chef’s restaurant where all the beautiful people go. 

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)  is a seed that has been used for centuries in Mexico and S. America, and it’s a great food. The seeds and leaves have been used in countless recipes and the plant was highly revered.  The use of the quinoa seeds took on a near-religious quality during the height of the Maya empire centuries ago.

But did you know that there is a close relative to quinoa that grows wild just about everywhere today in Southern California, and throughout most of North America? In fact, it grows pretty much everywhere in the world these days, and is more often regarded as a weed to be pulled and discarded.  It’s probably growing in your yard right now!

LAMB’S QUARTER
I’m speaking of lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album), a European native that is today found  world-wide. Though this spinach relative is an extremely common cosmopolitan plant, it rarely gets the respect it deserves.  In fact, it is typically regarded as an agricultural pest and an urban weed.  Gardeners pull it up and poison it and throw it into the trash can.  This is another example of our culture's chosen ignorance, because lamb's quarter is possibly the most nutritious green plant you can eat! It’s a true “superfood.”


NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of lamb's quarter leaf contains 4.2 grams of protein, 309 mg. of calcium, 72 mg. of phosphorus, 80 mg. of vitamin C, and a remarkable 11,600 International Units of vitamin A. 
Another analysis (Duke and Atchley) shows 684 mg. of potassium per 100 grams of leaf.  And 100 grams (1/2 cup) of the seed contains 1,036 mg. of calcium 340 mg. of phosphorus, 64 mg. of iron, and 1,687 mg. of potassium. The small black seeds are also an excellent protein source, used just as you’d use the quinoa seeds sold in many markets.
           
Even if you're not concerned about the vitamin and mineral content, you'll find that lamb's quarter is a delicious, hearty plant that can be used in many dishes.

Generally, you use lamb's quarter in any way that you'd use spinach.  Lamb's quarter leaves can be picked and added to green salads.  The flavor is similar to spinach.  The leaves can also be steamed as you'd steam spinach, and then seasoned with butter or herbs.  Most of your guests won't detect that they're not eating spinach.




Lamb's quarter leaves can be added to soups, stews, omelettes, bread batter, and even quiche.  The leaves can be steamed, and cheese grated over the top before serving.  The tender stems can be steamed, and served as you'd serve asparagus or string beans.



Lamb’s quarter is a late spring and summer weed, and so I use all that I can during the season. I also dry some which I then can store and reconstitute later. However, for storage, I prefer to blanche and then freeze as much as I can, which I then add to soups and stews throughout the year when the plant has died back.




As lamb's quarter goes to seed and dies back, you can easily collect the seeds.  I generally rub my hand along the stem and collect the seeds into a large salad bowl.  When all the seeds are dry, I rub them all between my hands, and blow off the chaff until I am left with only the black seed.  These seeds are then added to bread batter, pancake and biscuit batter, and soups.



This is such a common urban plant world wide that no hobo or homeless person should ever go hungry where lamb's quarter is found.  It grows all over Pasadena and nearby areas  in parks, in back yards, in fields, in vacant lots, along railroad lines, and often in the wilderness areas along trails.  When I harvest lamb’s quarter, I just pinch off the tips and never uproot the plant. This way, it lives longer and I have an extended supply of the greens.

When I first learning ethnobotany in the 1970s, I once spent a week in the Angeles National Forest and my only food was lamb’s quarter, making just about every dish possible with this plant. 



IDENTIFICATION

Lamb's quarter is easily recognized by its roughly toothed leaves that are somewhat triangular in shape.  The leaves are covered with a fine white mealiness which causes water to bead up on the leaf surface.  The older stems often have red stripes and red in the axils. 



If you’re not sure of the identity of a wild plant you intend to eat, don’t eat it!  Take the time to send someone a picture of the plant, or take the plant to a specialist.



DESCRIPTION: An annual plant which generally grows up to three or four feet tall, but much taller in ideal soils.  The leaves are roughly triangular in shape, with a white filmy coating to each leaf which causes water and raindrops to bead up.  The leaf shape has been described as similar to a duck’s or goose’s foot, hence another common name, goosefoot.

The stalks are typically streaked with red, and there is usually a bit of red in the axil of each leaf.

The green flowers are inconspicuous.

WHEN TO HARVEST/ AVAILABILITY: Lamb’s quarter is an annual plant which sprouts up in late winter or spring, depending on the rain fall and temperatures. You can harvest the early leaves by pinching off the tender tops, and leaving the plant to continue its growth.  Since the leaves do not go bitter, you can continue to pinch off the leaves through its growing season.

Seeds are harvested in the late summer when the plant has finished its growth and is dying. It’s best to wait until the plant is browning before harvesting the seeds so you know they’ll be mature.  Seeds can be harvested en-masse, allowed to dry, and then winnowed in a shallow bowl.



FOOD:  Think of lamb’s quarter as a wild spinach which can be used raw or cooked in any of the dishes you’d use spinach.  The young leaves are tender enough to be rinsed and added to salads.  The leaves can be cooked like spinach, and served plain, or with butter or other seasoning. The broth from this cooking is delicious.  Lamb’s quarter leaves and tender stems can also be added to soups, stews, egg dishes, stir-fries, and any dish where you might add spinach.

The mature black seeds, winnowed, can be added to bread and pancake batters, and to soup dishes, akin to the use of quinoa seed (a close relative of lamb’s quarter).

ADVICE FOR GROWING:  Lamb’s quarter is one of the easiest wild plants to grow.  They will grow simply by scattering the seed in a garden area, or along paths.  You can also plant the seeds in flats or pots.  If you allow a few to go to seed, you’ll find that you have a continual supply of the lamb’s quarter plants.



SOURCE:  If you’re still uncertain what this looks like, you can obtain the seed and grow it yourself.  Each seed packet with instructions is $3.99 from Survival Seeds, P.O.Box 41834, Los Angeles, CA 90041.



CAUTIONS:  Though lamb’s quarter leaf can be eaten raw, it is best eaten in a salad with a dressing.  If you simply pick a leaf from the plant and eat it, the high mineral content of the leaf can cause an irritation in the mouth and throat.





RECIPES:

SOUR LAMB

2 quarts lamb’s quarter leaves

1 pint sour cream

Garlic powder

            Steam the lamb’s quarter leaves and tender tops until tender.  Strain and chop fine.  Stir in the sour cream, add a dash of garlic powder and serve warm.




GOULD MESA DELUXE

3 cups lamb’s quarter leaves and tender stems, rinsed, diced.

1 onion, sliced

Butter, as needed

Seasonings to taste (Suggestion: use a dash of paprika and kelp)

            Warm the butter in a cast iron skillet.  Add the onion and cook until tender.  Add the lamb’s quarter and cook until tender. Add seasonings and serve.



EARTH BREAD

1 cup lamb’s quarter seed

1 cup flour of your choice (try acorn, or wheat, or amaranth)

3 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt.

3 Tbsp. honey

1 egg

1 cup raw milk (can substitute almond milk)

3 Tbsp oil.

            Mix all the ingredients well, and bake in an oiled pan for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree f. oven. You can also thin the batter with extra water and make pancakes.