Harvesting toloache & other black doings

I pruned one of the toloache bushes, which are now over my head. These things are so robust; neither bug nor disease seems to touch them. Handsome plants! I wanted the pickling cukes growing next to them to get a little more sun, though. I harvested the leaves and flowers from the prunings and am drying them now. I’ve got some to incorporate them into J.K. Huysmans’ “black mass” incense, but I also have plans to make a different incense, dedicated to Hekate.  I just knew I had to gather it and dry it nicely.

I ate a couple of the pickling cukes growing right next to the toloache for breakfast this morning, and while I think it’s possible that the datura influence the black nightshade, adding alkaloids, because these plants are related, clearly cucumbers and daturas play well together: my cukes were just cukes, not portals to a world of rage and restless dreams.:) Always nice in a cuke.

I also put a bunch of nightshade berries in the dehydrator, but The Black Toad, as I have begun to refer to it, does not want to be dry. It reveals its fundamental amphibian nature in its preference for the juicy state. It has stayed sticky for days, gumming up my dehydrator screens and making me realize that if I want to save these berries, I will have to freeze or process them in some way. I will try them in an ink and perhaps in a sacramental wine. I’ve got a bumper crop of chichiquelite on the way.

I harvested great bunches of wormwood in the bud stage, stripped off the leaves and flowers, and dehydrated them when the toloache was done. I’m going to use some of that to do Starkey’s glorified essence of wormwood (and will do the same with the mugwort I just dried). I’ve been wanting to do that alchemical procedure for years and noticed that a wine-making supply place had the salts of tartar (potassium carbonate) called for.

Day of the Dead marigolds are sprouting, but I think they will only just be flowering by the time frost hits, since I started them so late. I might get some of the black sunflowers, though, as one of them is pretty tall already. I passed a house the other day that has them growing alongside the driveway. Very nice.

Speaking of black, check out the weird snake head seed pod on the unmatta. I tell you, this plant lives up to its rep.

Continuing with the black theme, I bought ten pounds of black plums last week and started my first wine attempt, a black plum wine in a two-gallon crock. It’s already ready to rack into the secondary fermenter. I mentioned this to my elderly neighbor, and he happily told me how his father-in-law, who had a farm nearby, used to make plum wine in a giant crock waist high. I had read that “old-timers” started wine in a crock with a towel and plate on top, but it was neat to have this confirmed by a real old-timer.:) The only crock-work I had heard about prior to this was how my great-grandmother use to make pickles in a towel-covered crock she kept under the sink.

With the rest of the plums I made a plum pickle in red wine & wine vinegar with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. That one took three times draining the syrup off the fruit, boiling it, and returning it to the fruit, which to me feels very much like a magical ritual. I had some extra that I didn’t process and tasted–very wonderful. I also tasted some of the spiced black cherry pickle I put together a while ago that has been sitting in the fridge, doing its thing. What a transformation! They have gone from being unpleasantly vinegary to being just-right sour with a cherry taste. On the other hand, I tossed the pickled turnips, although they were still fine, because they were just too salty for me. They weren’t crisp, either, and next time I will try some grape leaves in there to crisp them up. I’ll make more this fall, when turnips come back in season.

10 comments to Harvesting toloache & other black doings

  • I imagine the black nightshade will be rather like raisins. Never really dry so much as “gooey in a thin skin”. Would sun-drying be an option?

    The wild nightshades dry delightfully on the vine around this time of year, looking like very angry yellow raisins.

    • herba15

      I think you are right about the gooey. I have not tried sun-drying because we tend to have such high humidity here that even using a dehydrator can sometimes be an exercise in futility. But I will give it a try with these guys.

  • Black nightshade most definitely forms raisin-like things when left to dry on the plant. I learned that last night when I was harvesting for an ink project. But… they’re a bit more inert to handle after they’ve baked like that. I didn’t feel weird after picking a handful, in addition to a few fresher berries.

    Okay, I’m going to try growing Unmatta next year. That seed head looks so alien. Almost like a puffball mushroom and a balloon had a bastard child…

    I still have to rack my plum pilsener. And rack the plum wine again because it has clarified a bit more and shed more dead yeast to the bottom of the fermenter.

    What enthustiastic plants in your yard 🙂

    • herba15

      You are right about them forming “raisins” on the plant. I wonder if they have to go through repeated cold and warmth to do that. Maybe I should leave my shade plot of black nightshade alone and then try harvesting the berries after we get some frosts.

      How long does/did your plum wine keep fizzing?

      • Oh, my plum wine kept burping and sputtering for a couple weeks. In earnest to where the airlock kept getting clogged up, and then back to polite belching. It still burps maybe once a day. I racked it a couple weeks ago into secondary.

  • picaro

    It’s somewhat comforting to know I’m not the only experience this resistance to drying with nightshade berries. I haven’t used my dehydrator yet, but I’ve been thinking about it, because my berries mostly look as fresh as on harvest day. I don’t remember it being like this last year.

  • michelle

    I wondered if you might be able to answer a couple questions I have regarding toloache and mugwort: firstly, around here the wild version of mugwort we have is Artemisia ludoviciana. Is it related closely enough to have the same dream enhancing properties of Artemisia vulgaris?

    Secondly, local herbalists here (So. AZ) say that sacred datura is extremely unpredictable. I’ve been told that dosing is impossible because one plant could be potent enough to kill you by even touching the leaves while another plant could be completely ingested without fatal effects. It grows everywhere along roadsides and I would love to be able to use it, if I thought I could do so safely. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • herba15

      Artemisia ludoviciana is more like wormwood than like mugwort. You might have a couple of other wild artemisias that would work as a substitute, like Artemisia douglasii or Artemisia californica. But it’s really easy to grow.

      I can believe that toloache is very unpredictable, but I would not go as far as it could kill you just by touching it nor would I think it would ever be safe to ingest it with no ill effects, not even a leaf much less the whole plant. If you would like to get to know this plant, I would advise growing it yourself. If it wants to communicate with you, it will–through dreams and visions. You do not have to ingest it. I would advise against ingesting it.

  • Oh! I am so jealous of witches who can have such gardens!

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