Tuesday, July 23, 2024

PURSLANE--

 

PURSLANE (Portulaca oleracea)

The plant kingdom’s richest source of Omega 3 fatty acids




 

Purslane generally starts appearing a bit later than most of the spring greens, after many of the spring greens have already dried up, typically by June or July. It is a very common annual in rose beds and gardens, though I do see it in the wild occasionally, typically in the sandy bottoms around streams.

The stems are succulent, red colored, and round in the cross section. The stems sprawl outward from the roots, rosette-like, with the stems lying on the ground. The leaves are paddle shaped. The little yellow flower is 5 petaled.

WHERE FOUND:

Though a European native, this plant is now common and widespread worldwide.  It is found in agricultural lands, swamps, fields, gardens, ditches, and vacant lots.  Though it prefers wet soils, it can be found in most environments.

USES:

When you chew on a fresh stem or leaf of purslane, you’ll find it mildly sour and a bit crunchy. It’s really a great snack, though I like it a lot in salads. Just rinse it to get all the dirt off, dice, add some dressing, and serve. Yes, add tomatoes and avocado if you have any. When I first learned of this plant native to India, I ate it mostly in salads.



The famous naturalist Henry David Thoreau lived off the land when he built his little cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.  He wrote, “I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.  I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled.  Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessities, but for want of luxuries.”  He wrote that in the mid 1840s! Things are not that different today.

According to Mike Krebill, author of “The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles,”  “The tender tips of the stems (of purslane), including the leaves, may be eaten raw in salads, baked in a quiche, or added to a stir fry.  Flexible stems up to the thickness of a pencil may be pickled.”

You can also add the succulent leaves and stems  to sandwiches, tostadas, even on the edges of your chile rellenos and huevos rancheros. I’ve eaten it fried, boiled, baked (in egg dishes), and probably other ways, too. It’s versatile, tasty, and crisp. It really goes with anything, and it’s very nutritious.

If you take the thick stems, clean off the leaves, and cut them into sections of about 4", you can make purslane pickles. There are many ways to make pickles; my way is to simply fill the jar with the purslane stems, add raw apple cider vinegar, and let it sit for a few weeks. (I refrigerate it.)



MEDICINE/NUTRITION: 

According to researchers, purslane is one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. That means that not only is it good, but it’s also good for you!  It has been fed to chickens to create a low-cholesterol egg!

100 grams, about a half-cup, of purslane contains 103 mg. of phosphorus, 39 mg. of iron, 2,500 mg. of thiamine, and smaller amounts of vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, and calcium, according to the USDA.

 

ADVICE FOR GROWING:  Purslane seeds can be purchased from seed supply companies, and planted in gardens or pots if you don’t have any.

The cut stems root easily, so you can cut the thicker stems that you find in the wild, and then root them in good soil in your yard.

 


Purslane is a member of the Purslane Family, which according to the most recent botanical classification, contains only one genus, Portulaca.  There are about 100 species of genus Portulaca world-wide, with Purslane being one of the most common species worldwide.

 

CAUTIONS: Sometimes, prostrate spurge is confused for purslane.  Prostrate spurge, however, lies very flat to the ground, and when you break the stem of spurge, a white milky sap appears.

 

RECIPES:

Purslane Salsa, created by Pascal Baudar, author of “Wildcrafted Fermentation.”

2 cups chopped tomatoes

21⁄2 cups chopped foraged purslane

3⁄4 cup chopped onions

3 garlic cloves

1 cup raw apple cider vinegar

1⁄4 cup sugar

1 large California bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

1⁄2 cup chopped cilantro and some herbs from the garden (such as thyme)

Place all ingredients, except cilantro and other herbs, into a pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer to the desired consistency (light or chunky). Add cilantro and other herbs.

Pour into jars, close the lids, and place in the fridge. It should be good for at least a month.

 


About the Author:

Nyerges has been teaching ethnobotany since 1974.  He is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” “Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America,” and other books on the uses of wild plants. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

 

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

DREAMS

 

DREAMS

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is an educator, and author of such books as “Til Death Do Us Part?”, “Urban Survival Guide,” and more. Information at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

 

Can our dreams be interpreted in a meaningful way?  Do our dreams have special meaning, or are they all just a blending of the subconscious thoughts that run through our minds while we sleep?

I’ve paid special attention to my dreams for a long time, and studied several books that purport to explain the meanings of those symbols and actions.  I even took a class in symbolism to assist in discovering the language of dreams. I’ve concluded that the dreamer is the best interpreter, because only the dreamer has the knowledge of the details and specificity that no one else can know. 
One of the dream books that I read years ago was disappointing because it gave the impression that all one had to do was define each symbol, as if the symbol or object always means the same thing for everyone.   But that’s just not so.  I was talking with a friend about dreams, and she mentioned that a snake  in one of her dreams was a very positive symbol.  Yet, I have had dreams where the snake was very negative and frightful.  We discussed the context of each dream, and it became clear that symbols will mean different things for each dreamer.

Still, it’s good to understand basic symbolism and how symbols can be interpreted.  The symbol must be “translated” by the dreamer depending on the context of the dream. A snake, for example, is regarded quite differently in different cultures and so a snake cannot have one single static meaning.  The meaning is within the mind of the dreamer, which is why the dreamer is the best hope for a good dream interpretation. 

Nothing is simple in a dream.  It is as if you are watching a movie, and some parts are highly significant while others are just dressing.   Plus, another factor is that the dream could be about the day before, or it might clarify something in your past.  It might be about your future. The dream might be answering some deeply personal query, and the dream might even be for someone else entirely.  I have dreams on numerous occasions that were clearly warnings or messages for someone else.  I would dutifully call that person when I awoke to give them the unusual news.

The best way to learn about your dreams is to begin recording details of your significant dreams. Do this as soon as awakening as possible.  If you wait too long, you’ll forget details or the details will start to get murky.  At least knowing the basic meaning of various symbols can help your interpretation of the details you write.  It takes a bit of concerted effort to do this in a way that yields results, so if you’re going to approach this, don’t do it casually.

One category of dreams are those that follow your deep personal inquiry as to whether or not you should take some particular action in your life. You’re not likely to get a simple “yes” or “no” from your dream.  In all probability, your dream will seem non-sensical.  It will be for you to interpret, based on the context of your life. 

Some obvious things to look for:  What was I doing in the dream?  Why was I doing that?  What might that action symbolize?  Where was I?  Were the surroundings familiar, or completely unknown?  Who was there with me?  Were these people that I know, or do not know?  What specific involvement did I have with these people?

Did the dream seem to be giving me some sort of message?  If so, what is that message, and how might it apply to my day to day decisions? Did I see any unique objects in the dream? Were certain colors very noticeable?

Only you can answer these questions since you are the one who dreamed the dream and saw the pictures.  When you take the time to look into these secret sleep-time messages, you may find that you may gain deep insight into what is happening in your waking life. 

I have kept records of significant dreams for over 30 years.  Not always, but sometimes they are prophetic, showing me symbolically what might happen to me, to friends, or to the world at large.

 

Monday, May 06, 2024

"GUIDE TO WILD FOODS" lists "Safe (botanical) Families"

 

“GUIDE TO WILD FOODS”

Be Sure to Read the Appendix on “Safe Families”

By Christopher Nyerges

 [Nyerges’ “Guide to Wild Foods” book, originally published in 1978, was published in full color as of 2014.  The book, now titled “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” is available at bookstores, Amazon, and at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.  It has been adopted for use as a college textbook in one college.]

 


When I was working on my very first book, “Guide to Wild Foods,” it was really a collection of random notes about the uses of the wild plants I had been studying and tasting.  I wasn’t sure how I would get it published, but I knew it should contain the overview of how to use wild plants for food that I’d been obsessed with.

 

The members of the non-profit WTI also wanted to see a local book on wild foods, and their efforts dovetailed with my work.  Eventually, I was working as a typesetter for a local newspaper, and I was able to prepare the entire first draft of the book for the printer.

 

The book is still in print, eight or so editions later.

 

One of the most important parts of the book is an Appendix that I think next to no one ever reads.  This is the section that I call “Safe Families,” which I developed under the tutelage of Dr. Leonid Enari, who was my teacher at the time, and who helped with me with many aspects of the book.   Dr. Enari encouraged me to continue to learn how to identify and use individual plants, of course, but he also emphasized the great leap forward that would occur if I began to see plants in terms of their Family relationships.

 

There are many plant families, of course, and the concept of a “family” is one that has developed over a few hundred years of observing similarities of plants, and the realization that even the chemistry of plants flows within families.

 

Dr. Enari was uniquely qualified to guide me in this direction, as he earned a Phd in both ethno-botany and chemistry in his native Estonia.  We spent many afternoons in his office discussing families that were entirely safe, or worthy of consideration, with certain qualifications.  This was not intended as a shortcut to learning individual plants, but rather a way to open the door to using all plants within a specific family.  You had to know how to definitively identify a specific family in order for all this to make sense.

 


Dr. Enari and I identified quite a few families whose members could all be eaten, again, within certain guidelines.  When the first edition of my “Guide to Wild Foods” was published, we provided a list of 13 entirely safe to consume botanical families.  Each family description included how to recognize that family, and whatever considerations you might need to take into account as you pursue that path.

 

Over time, in various articles I’d written for Backpacker magazine, Mother Earth News, and others, I’d mention these safe families, and I began to see that the idea was being picked up by others. 

 

By the way, this is not a short cut to identifying edible plants. The widely touted “short cut” is the so-called Universal Taste Test, where you are instructed to taste a little bit of an unknown plant.  If it is not distasteful in any way, you are instructed to swallow a little and wait 8 or so hours to see if any sickness results. If no sickness, you are instructed to repeat the experiment and wait another 8 hours.  I think it is terrible advice and I have never been an advocate of this potentially dangerous shortcut.

 

The list of Safe Families in my book includes only those families that most beginners would be able to identify with a bit of work. 

 


For example, we included the Grass family, which is one of the biggest plant families on the face of the earth.  You can eat any mature seeds, and you can eat the young leaves, ideally juiced or cooked.   Of course, I warn the reader to be cautious around commercial lawns and golf courses, where toxic substances might have been used to keep the lawn green.

 

Onions, once part of the Lily Family, are another safe family.  They look like little green onions, but if you have a bad sense of smell, you might have trouble here.

 


Another edible family is the Mustard Family, the same family that gives you broccoli and watercress and radish.   In the wild, you have need to see the flower – especially if you’re a beginner – to know that a plant is a member of the Mustard Family.  The flower has to have four sepals, four petals, one pistil, and six stamens (four tall, two short).  So you need to know what all those flower parts are before you go randomly eating what you think are Mustard Family members.  And even then, you’re only eating tender parts of these plants, since some members can be very woody.

 

“Guide to Wild Foods” also mentions the Amaranth Family, the Cactus Family, the Mallow Family, the Goosefoot Family, and more.

 

In the very beginning of pursuing this method, I did receive some pushback from at least one botanist who objected to what he thought was a “shotgun” approach. However, I countered that my listed families all included thoughtful considerations of what could go wrong.  In time, I have found that the consideration of plant families has gained prominence as a way to teach about ethno-botany, and to see the relationships between similar useful plants.

 

“Guide to Wild Foods” is still in print, all color now, and we have slightly expanded the Appendix on Safe Families.  Yes, it is the part of the book which nearly no one reads, but I hope you’re one of those who will read it, and discover that it assists your learning about this field which can be challenging.

 

Now titled “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,”  the book has been used as a textbook in some schools.  It is available at Amazon, at bookstores, and at the store at  www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com

 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

WHAT I DID ON "GOOD FRIDAY"

 

WHAT I DID ON “GOOD FRIDAY”

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many books, such as “Searching for the Meaning of Life,” “Watermelon Dreams,” “Urban Survival Guide,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and others.  More information can be found at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.

 


One year, during the Easter weekend, I saw a picture of the Pope dragging a wooden cross along the path that Jesus is said to have taken after the trials, on his way to Golgotha.  The Pope was commemorating what Catholics call the Stations of the Cross, significant events along the way while the beaten Jesus was dragging the very cross that he would be nailed to.

In the case of the Pope, the article indicated that the Pope’s cross was made of balsa wood, weighing about 5 pounds, and it was fitted with little wheels so that it could be rolled, and didn’t really require any physical strength to carry.

This caught my attention because of the unique exercises I have done with the Survival Training School of Highland Park, beginning in the late 1970s.  The School’s focus involved physical exercises, running, jumping, and other activities that bring the student to their physical and mental limits, with the goal of extending one’s perceived limits.  Needless to say, it was a strenuous regimen, and the number of students was never large.

This was not a religious school, though the headmaster, who also taught Yoga when it was not popular, often attempted to incorporate spiritual or religious principles into some of the curriculum.  For example, we all did an activity called “Cross Bearing” during Good Friday, sometimes on the following Saturday since the classes were always on Saturdays. The instructor told us to look at what happened to Jesus after he was brought to trial and beaten.  We were told to attempt to grasp the intense physical pain that Jesus had to have undergone, and then, after being beaten and bloody, was forced to carry a heavy wooden cross.  Our exercise was then to select logs at our class site, and to carry one over our shoulders, up and down the unpaved driveway to the hilltop school.  We were told to do this physically taxing activity in silence, and to breathe deeply during the slow walking.  In fact, we were given a whole series of instructions on how to breathe, how to deal with the pain, and how to ask our “higher Self” for assistance in continuing just a little bit beyond where we felt we’d reached a limit.  It all fit right in with our general school curriculum, which was intended to be real, and uncompromising.  As I said, the number of students was never large, and many of the student were mysteriously “out of town” during the Good Friday event.

Once a reporter called us to ask if they could come and photograph the event.  “Sure,” I responded.  “This is a religious activity, right?” asked the reporter.  “Well,” I began.  “Not exactly.”  I then tried to explain that this was not some sort of Good Friday replication where we wear robes and whip ourselves, but rather that it was part of a very secular martial-arts-type school where there is focus on physical and mental expansion.  “Oh,” she replied, “we were expecting something else,” and they did not come.   Clearly, what they wanted was to see someone – preferably dressed in a robe -- pulling a small cross on wheels like the Pope, while parishioners stand along and pray along the path. 

Nevertheless, this has been a highpoint for me nearly every Good Friday for the past approximately 40 years.  In the very beginning, I was able to do the Cross Bearing with a section of a telephone pole!  These days, my “crosses” have gotten smaller, though I still focus upon the same breathing techniques, and the same mental focus of  quietly looking at my own “crosses” in life as I slowly walk up and down the driveway.

I am well aware that in many parts of the world people have tried to literally re-create the crucifixion as a way to intensely remember the pain of Jesus.  In my files, I have photos of Catholic groups in such diverse places as Mexico, Guatemala, and the Philipines, where some participants actually get nailed to a cross for a few minutes. They have doctors on hand, and they use sterilized nails.  In other places, the “celebrants” actually get bloody-whipped and the observers take it all very seriously.

Though I have no interest in having someone drive a nail in my wrist, or whip me, I still derive great benefit from my personal focus upon taking on a bit more of a challenge than I think I can.  Though I have respect for the people who choose to replicate Jesus’s ordeal, it still strikes me too much as trying to take on the appearance of something, rather  than actually deeply feeling what it’s all about, regardless if anyone is watching.

This year, just a small group of students from the Survival Training School showed up for the Cross Bearing event.  Everyone carried segments of tree branches from some recent tree-pruning. It was quiet, intense, and deeply moving to everyone present. 

When I was a child, I sat in church on Good Friday from noon to three, not understanding the priest’s Latin, and finding the crowded church quite stuffy.   I sometimes fell asleep.  Somehow, the Cross Bearing, with no religious underpinning, put me more intensely in touch with the presumed theme of Easter weekend.

 

 

Friday, March 29, 2024

EASTER AND THE MAN BEHIND IT

 

EASTER AND THE MAN BEHIND IT

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is an educator, and author of such books as “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  His book “Squatter in Los Angeles” is available on Kindle.  You can learn more about his classes and activities at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

Jesus!  You say just that name and everyone knows who you mean.  What a man he was!  What a life he must have lived!  He is known and literally worshipped by at least a third of all humanity, and around whom our current world system of reckoning time revolves.  Amazing! And perhaps the even more amazing is that there is still so much debate about who he was, what he did, how he lived, and what he believed.  Hundreds of differing Christian sects are stark testament to the fact that though Jesus might have had “one message,” that message has been widely interpreted and debated over the centuries.

Let’s work through some of the most basic facts. As an historical person, he can be placed in a specific time and location.    All historians concede that they do not know the birthday of Jesus, but it is widely acknowledged that the birth date is not  December 25.  Most scholars suggest that Jesus was born in either April or September, in 4 B.C. or 6 B.C. of our current reckoning. Herod died in 4 B.C., so that was the most recent date he could have been born.  Some place his birth as early as 10 B.C. in our current reckoning of time.

“Jesus” was not his name!  Really? Then why do we call him that? “Jesus” is the English rendering of Yeshu, or Iesu.  Did he have a full name? Yes, of course, and it was not “Jesus Christ,” either, which is a title, meaning Jesus the Christ, or Jesus the Annointed.  Historians say that the actual name was Yeshua ben Josephus, that is, Jesus son of Joseph.  Another version says it is Yeshua ben Pandirah, Jesus son of the Panther.   In Indian literature, he is referred to as Yuz Asaf.  When mentioned in the Koran, he is Isa (or Issa).   Dilletante “historians”  have suggested that “Jesus” didn’t actually exist because they were unable to find “Jesus Christ” in other contemporary historical records.

WAS JESUS BLACK?

Ethnically, culturally, and religiously, he was Jewish.  But occasionally, a writer will suggest that Jesus was actually black, with such evidence as the preponderance of the “Black Madonnas” found throughout Europe.  The only Biblical evidence on this are the two lineages of Jesus provided, which, unlike any other person whose lineage is recorded in the Bible, include women. Look them up yourself.

The key genealogies of Jesus listed are Luke 3: 23-31, and Matthew 1:1-17.  In these lineages, we are told of at least four of the women in Jesus’ genealogical line.  These are Rehab, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba.  Rehab (also spelled Rahab) was a Canaanite.  Tamar was probably a Canaanite.  Bethsheba, often referred to as a Hittite, was more likely Japhethic, that is, not a descendant of Ham. (However, this is not clear).   Ruth was in the line of Ham. Now, who was Ham?  Who were the Canaanites and Hittites? 

 

According to Genesis 9:19, all mankind descended from  Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Ham’s descendants became the black people who settled in Africa, and parts of the Arabian peninsula.  His sons were Cush, whose descendants settled in Ethiopia, Mizraim, whose descendants settled in Egypt, Put, whose descendants settled in Libya, and Canaan, whose descendants settled in Palestine. The descendants of Cush were the main populace of the Cushite Empire, which extended from western Libya to Ethiopia and Nubia, all of present day Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula into the mountains of Turkey.  They spoke several languages and had skin pigmentation ranging from dark black to medium brown. 

 

It takes a bit of study to ascertain who these people were – and there were other possible African women in Jesus’ lineage as well – but, in general, when we are speaking of Cushites, Canaanites, descendants of Ham, etc., we are speaking of Africans.  It is entirely possible that this wasn’t a big deal when the scriptures were written since Jesus’ racial background was common knowledge.

 

So, although Jesus had some African ancestry, his physical appearance was such that he fit right in with the Jews of that era, based on  several passages that indicate that Jesus not only looked like every one else in a crowd, but was also a very average and normal looking Middle-Easterner, not sticking out at all.  Remember how the Roman guards had to ask for others to identify Jesus.  He was of an average appearance for that day and location, and blended into the crowd.

 

Though politely referred to as “rabbi,” his ideas about life, family, death, and relationships did not always mesh well with the religious elite, who viewed Jesus as well-intended, but nevertheless a trouble-maker to the establishment.

THE EARLY YEARS

It is worth noting that the Persian Kings (the so-called 3 kings) who sought out the infant Jesus were engaged in very much the same search that the Tibetan priests employed when seeking the embodiment of the next Dali Lama.  The Bible speak of the young Jesus talking to the Rabbis in the Temple, sharing his youthful wisdom with the elders to the surprise of his parents.  Then there is no Biblical record of what he did as a teenager, and during his 20s.  We don’t hear from his again in the Bible until his appearance on the scene at about age 30 or so, where he reportedly transformed water into wine at a wedding feast, and was depicted as a healer, prophet, and fisher of men. 

His religious observations would have been the regular observations for Jews of the day, and entirely different from the observations of most Christian sects today.  (The reasons for this are well-known and found in any encyclopedia on the history of the Church.)

Growing up as a Catholic, I studied Jesus, and often wondered, what did it really mean to “be like Jesus”?  There was so much about this person that was beyond my ability to research.  For example, what Holy Days would Jesus have observed? Was he an Essene?  Was he a Nazarene? What did these groups believe and practice? Did he really have any Buddhist influence?  Who were his closest followers, the apostles?  What did he actually teach his close followers, beyond what is known from his various public talks?  Were his miracles and public healings actual events, or were they symbolic stories?  These and other questions have always swirled around this man called Jesus.

 

As a student of the real and historical Jesus, here are just a few of the many books I have found to be useful.

Garner Ted Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, wrote a book about the “Real Jesus,” and Jesus was described as a hard-working, athletic, health-food eating powerful man, a sort of health advocate Gypsy Boots of the past who also spoke about the Kingdom within.

 

Holger Kersten in his “Jesus Lived in India” book presents a very different Jesus, the very one who is depicted on the Shroud of Turin, and one who was actually recorded as traveling to India,  and who studied from the Buddhists.

 

According to Harold Percival in his “Thinking and Destiny” book, Jesus succeeded in re-uniting his Doer and Thinker and Knower, his internal trinity, which put him in touch with his divinity, which made him, effectively, a God.  Though Percival’s terminology is unfamiliar to most Christians, he is less concerned about the historical details of Jesus and more concerned about what Jesus did, and became, that made him a focal point of most societies on earth over the last 2000 years.

 

Regardless of your religious background or belief, you are likely to be richly rewarded by delving deeply into the nuances of the details of who this Jesus was.  When everyone’s mind is upon Jesus and the Mysteries during the Easter season, I have found great value in viewing the “Jesus of Nazareth” series, and even such depictions as “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  Unlike so many who purport to follow in his path, I find a real Jesus emerging who was not dogmatic, but one who knew that only when we recognize each other’s humanity do we rise up into our own divinities.

 

 According to Holger Kersten, “Jesus did not supply theories to be ground in the mills of academia, about his path and message – he just lived his teachings!  Tolerance, unprejudiced acceptance of others, giving and sharing, the capacity to take upon oneself the burdens of others, in other words, unlimited love in action and service for one’s fellow human beings – this is the path which Jesus showed to salvation.”

 

 

                                    30  --

Monday, January 08, 2024

TEACHING FORAGING SINCE 1974!

 

TEACHING FOR 50 YEARS

NYERGES REFLECTS ON HIS TEACHING CAREER, BEGINNING IN JANUARY 1974

By Christopher Nyerges

[www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

 

At the end of one of my recent classes, wild food chef, Pascal Baudar, who is the author of 4 books on how to make delicious meals from wild foods, presented me with a gift in recognition of my 50 years of teaching wild foods.  Baudar, who is a true pioneer is his work, gave me a ceramic bowl that he made from clay that he personally dug and fired.  I was quite happy at this limited edition clay pot, and promptly used it to eat  a wild salad.



The gift of a hand-made clay bowl from Pascal Baudar.


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

My interest in wild foods arose from my childhood interest in hiking and exploring the Angeles National Forest.  At first, I was a backpacker who disliked carrying canned foods, but who loved the outdoors.  Wherever I went, I wanted to know about the plants and wildlife that resided there. And I wanted to know the history of the early peoples who resided there.

By middle school, I had an encounter with another hiker in the mountains who explained to me and my hiking partner how he learned about wild foods from Northern California native peoples. Really? I exclaimed.  What people? What plants? Are the plants still here?  The man pointed out mustard and miners lettuce and pine needles before he hiked away. And I could not get this idea out of my mind.

My studies then opened a new world to me.  In an overcrowded world of over-development, I learned that native peoples once exclusively resided where I lived, and they got everything from the land:  Food, medicine, shelter, tools, clothing. 

My studies rapidly took me down the path of botany and biology and ethnobotany.  There was no looking back.  I realized that all our man-made problems are mostly due to our disrespect for the environment, and our greedy desire to extract more from nature than what is ecologically possible. 

I pursued botany in the urban areas, in the mountains, deserts, beaches, in Mexico, and in Ohio when I lived on my grandfather’s farm.  In botany, I found a positive solution to most of our problems.  By my mid-teens, I was no longer pursuing this from a fear perspective, but rather from the perspective of the excitement of re-discovering the living legacy of native America. 

I read every book on the subject I could get my hands on.  I made friends with native Americans near me.  And I started writing my first book.  I would hitchhike up and down the west coast, supplementing my diet with wild foods. I would go into the local mountains to test myself, living off wild foods for a week or a weekend at  a time

By 1974, I was asked to lead a wild food walk for a local non profit, WTI, based in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I had just turned 19, and thought that there had to be far more qualified people out there.  But I said yes.  The founder of the non-profit, Richard White, tutored me in how to be a good teacher.



 The very first formal wild food outing conducted by Nyerges in January 1974.


The outing was advertised in the local papers, and 100 people showed up one January morning in 1974 at the entrance to the Angeles National Forest in Altadena.  We walked along the stream, and I identified native and non-native plants. We collected greens along the way. We walked two miles up the canyon to a campground, with perhaps 70 of the hikers still with us, and there we made a salad and soup, and there were a few side lessons on such things as dowsing and fire-making.

It was a wonderful class, and I learned some important lessons about teaching and learning to respond to students’ questions.

It was a long day, and there were only 12 of us left in the end.  And it started my lifelong professional interest in teaching ethnobotany, and all the other related skills.


Nyerges, right, leading a wilderness field trip.

 

With a few exceptions, I led field trips just about every weekend since then, many of which were overnights.  I taught hundreds of classes through the local colleges, and gave more lectures than I remember.  There was no internet back then, but every local newspaper and nearly every local radio and tv station eventually interviewed me about the wild food foraging walks I conducted.  Interestingly, there was a lot of ridicule in the beginning, though that is now a thing of the past.  

I had the good fortune to meet and study with botanist Dr. Leonid Enari, who taught at the L.A. County Arboretum. Among other things, Dr. Enari worked closely with me on my first book. 



 Dr. Leonid Enari, Nyerges’ primary botanical mentor.  Nyerges refers to Dr. Enari as the “greatest botanist that no one knows.


Big among my influencers was Euell Gibbons, author of “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and promoter of Post Grape Nuts.  I only met him once.  


Christopher Nyerges (right) met famous forager Euell Gibbons once in 1975.

Over the years, I have travelled throughout the United States teaching these skills.  I appeared on many local news stations over the years, once appearing with Ron Hood, who was one of the top survival instructors in the country.   I was very busy during Y2K.  I appeared on Huell Howser’s popular show, and I consulted for dozens of TV shows, including Naked and Afraid, and Doomsday Preppers.   I’ve written thousands of newspaper and magazine articles over the years, from such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Mother Earth News, Pasadena Star News, Prepper Guide, Countryside, American Survival Guide (of which I was editor for a bit), and Wilderness Way (I was editor for 7 years).  And as of today, I have written 27 books, mostly on wild foods and self-reliance topics.



Nyerges, center, conducting a survival skills class.

One of the greatest benefits has been meeting so many outstanding people in the course of teaching perhaps upwards of 50,000 students.  This is how I met “chaparral granny” Dorothy Poole, and Tongva elder Barbara Drake, who involved me in teaching Indian Education classes for a number of years.  This is also how I met wild food chef Pascal Baudar. 

Along the way, I met some of the finest instructors around today, most of whom became a part of my ad hoc, peripatetic staff, people like Gary Gonzales, Rick Adams, Paul Campbell, Dude Mclean, Alan Halcon, Rob Remedi, Keith Farrar, Jim Robertson, Angelo Cervera, and many others.

Fifty years of teaching foraging and self-reliance has been quite a roller coaster.   I look forward to the next 50 years!~

 

Friday, November 24, 2023

DISCOVERING SANTA CLAUS

 

DISCOVERING SANTA CLAUS

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of several books, including “Watermelon Dreams,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Urban Survival Guide.”  This article was originally published in "Watermelon Dreams," available from Amazon.  More information available at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

 


Christmas was always a special time, though in my very earliest memories, there were no religious overtones.  I was taken to church every Sunday, of course, but the Christmas decorations and gatherings were all something that happened at home, not at church.  When I was too young to speak, I realized that Christmas was the season that happened during the coldest time of the year, and it meant that we’d have a fire going in the fireplace, people would be coming over, and there’d be lots of gifts and food.  The food was cookies, tangerines, and walnuts.

            One of my earliest Christmas memories was when I was told that Santa Claus would come to our home and bring gifts, and that he had some way to figure out where I lived.  I didn’t know exactly why, but there was a great mystery about this fat, bearded, red-suited Santa man.  People spoke about him in hushed tones, and would even sometimes stop talking about him when I came near. 

            My brother Tom told me that Santa Claus would come down the chimney – something I found hard to believe considering how fat he appeared in the pictures.  We both peered up into our fireplace one day and wondered how Santa could get through the narrow passageway.

            “Plus, doesn’t dad have a screen over the top of the chimney to keep the pigeons out?” Tom asked.  I didn’t know.  “I hope he remembers to remove it for Santa.” 

            On Christmas Eve, our dad showed us a plate of cookies and a pot of coffee that had been set out for Santa. 

            We barely slept, and I tried to not sleep so I could be the first to rush out and catch a glimpse of this Santa.  But I fell asleep, and Tom woke me and Rick.  We jumped out of bed, and ran down the hall.  We weren’t particularly interested in gifts, but we wanted to catch Santa.  We were too late, but the three of us carefully examined the remaining evidence.  There were no cookies left on the plate – only crumbs – and there was only a small amount of coffee left in the cup.  Tom held the cup and carefully peered into it, and then Rick and I stared into the cup, examining the last remaining proof that Santa had come and departed.

            “See?” said Tom.  We all continued to stare into the cup a while longer, as if it might reveal some secrets to us.

            In a few more years, I noticed that people didn’t fully hide their comments from me when speaking about Santa Claus. 
            “He believes in Santa Claus?” was met with muffled response.  What an odd question, I thought.  Why shouldn’t I believe in Santa Claus?

            When I actually learned about this mythical aspect of Christmas, I did go through a period of confusion and even anger at the world of make-believe perpetrated entirely by adults and foisted upon me.  I suppose I felt bad because I really wanted to believe in Santa Claus, and I felt that he was a positive figure.  And I had been told to “be good” for Santa Claus, and that Santa Claus knew everything I was doing.  I was very puzzled by all this, but I got over it.

            In fact, I felt very uplifted when I learned that there was an actual historical person upon which Santa Claus was based: a Catholic bishop in Asia Minor (Turkey) of the 3rd century named Nikolaos of Myra gave gifts to poor newlyweds around Christmas time.  A century or so later, sainthood was bestowed upon him, and he was known as Saint Nicholas.  In honor of this very real person, people began to give gifts to others, especially others in need, during the Christmas season and say it was “from Saint Nicholas.”  What a wonderful story!  What would have been wrong with telling me that historical story rather than the garbled mythology?