Book Notes: Good Berry Bad Berry

Good Berry Bad Berry Cover

Gardening author Helen Yoest lives in North Carolina (where I lived for two years), is a Pisces (like I am), and has a Border Collie named Pepper, whom she adores (as much as I love my Border Collies, Conner and Ruby). We also both love to garden! She is the author of several books, including Plants with Benefits, and her latest, which will undoubtedly end up in the reference section of every gardener’s library, Good Berry Bad Berry: Who’s Edible, Who’s Toxic, and How to Tell the Difference. (You want to buy it already, right?)

Good Berry Bad Berry is very well organized into sections–one for Bad Berries; one for Good Berries; one for Good Berries/Bad Idea; with Recipes, and Berries that Didn’t Make the List, arranged regionally, rounding out the book.

There are thirteen bad berries featured. Conveniently each berry is described by plant type, then details of its toxicity are highlighted, its season named, its flowers and leaves then described. A photo of each is included, so IDing will be easy even for a novice gardener or forager.

Here are two of the Bad Berries:

Nandina domesticate
Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Heavenly Bamboo is found commonly in California, so I chose to highlight this one first. Helen assures us that while the berry is poisonous, the severity is very mild. I’m sure readers will be familiar with its tiny white flowers of late fall. It can grow anywhere from 4-8 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide. I had one that was exceeding its bounds and I dug it up, which was no small task, and I see it now has a little reminder growing nearby, so, not that easily gotten rid of. But I have seen it used beautifully in gardens where there was ample space. Let me know your experiences.

Nippon Lily
Nippon Lily (Rohdea japonica)

I must confess I chose this bad berry because it looks so much like Arum italicum which is my least favorite plant in my garden, as it is also poisonous. I had a very hefty vet bill after Conner played ball in it with a Border Collie friend who was visiting, called Learning the Hard Way–a cautionary tale on why it’s important to know what’s growing in our gardens! So it would take very little to convince me that Nippon Lily is not your best friend. I wonder what they share? Anyway, Nippon Lily induces nausea, the severity is mild, and its season is spring. It has leaves a foot long and two feet wide according to Helen. Here’s a picture of arum italicum, which only emphasizes why it’s important to have a good reference book like this one, as it would be so easy to confuse one berry for another.

Arum italicum

Now on to some Good Berries! There are twenty listed in the book.

Goji Berry
Goji Berry (Lyceum barbarum)

Pretty sure I’ve never seen a goji berry in my life, but I did recall that Chicago gardener/author Amanda Thomsen, of Kiss my Aster fame, was experimenting with them in her garden with mixed results. But it piqued my interest and I do love to grow berries. I have blackberries and raspberries and one lone strawberry that persists. I love them all. So maybe I will give them a go, though it sounds like they will be needing some serious space if they can bolt to 8-10 feet high in a single season! “Handling the green berries will turn them black.” Duly noted!

Mahonia aquifolium
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

The Oregon Grape is native to the Pacific Northwest, so I’m anticipating that some of my subscribers will have these in their gardens and can share their stories. I’m reading they are sour when raw and best used in jams and jellies. They grow under the high canopies of pine and fir forests, in moist, organically rich, acidic soils. This makes me think Oregon is a perfect place, and I do believe I was introduced to them in the Van Couver area, years ago. Do you grow them?

I do hope you will check out Helen’s Good Berry Bad Berry. I see this as a lovely book to share with the children in your lives–to bring their awareness to the differences of various berries in our gardens, and to enhance our general appreciation of what else we might include in our gardens to deepen our connections and reap even more benefits.

Love and berry blessings,

Kathryn xoxoxo

Book News: Happy to share that The Edge in Minneapolis has included an excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden in their March issue! Also, the very nice folks at Happy to Survive named this blog Plant Whatever Brings You Joy to their Top Blog list in 2016. Thank you!

What the Doggies Eat

Ruby and Conner500
the Border Collies

Visitors who have read my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden are well aware that it’s far less “a gardening book” and far more a book about applying 52 lessons learned in the garden to everyday life. For so many gardeners our lives include our fur babies, our companion animals, who are part of our families, and tending to them and enjoying their love and personalities are part of what brings us joy. On occasion I have dedicated a post on this blog to one of my special doggie loves, but it’s been awhile, and so today I turn to something I’ve wanted to share for quite awhile–what I feed the doggies. Specifically I’m speaking of the diet I offer Ruby and Conner daily.

I have a couple of friends who have informed others, “She cooks for her dogs. Warm food.” [Insert eye roll.] And it’s true. I do. And I’m glad I have this practice.

Having been a hippy in the 60’s my life included a year in the woods eating mostly rice and vegetables, followed by three years in Amsterdam where my diet was primarily macrobiotic. In both environs herbs played a big role in eating and in healing. We drank chamomile to sleep well. We drank peppermint for digestion. We turned to slippery elm for throat problems and we drank raspberry leaf tea when we were having babies. So food as science, as chemistry, as energy, was integral to our lifestyles. And I’ve only built on that in the subsequent years.

Naturally this extended to What to Feed the Dogs. I’m certain I’m not alone in searching for the Perfect Kibble, or at least one that has not been recalled once or twice. Good grief! And then there was the China fiasco and that’s all I’m going to say about that, except to say I won’t buy any pet toy or food made in China.

So, eventually, and more recently, I’ve settled in on Paul Newman kibble in the mornings. And this is when I add all the supplements I count on, as well as a single pill for Conner as he’s a twelve year old now, and I call him My Boy but he’s really My Dear Old Man, and his back hips were giving him quite a spell.

So let’s talk about that for a moment, as I know for sure I’m not alone in dealing with the back hips and legs of an aging dog. Here’s what I found works for him, at least for now. Working meaning, he’s better. I turned to Katy Sommers’ book The Complete Holistic Dog Book. She’s a local vet. She recommended for arthritis including both green lipped mussel and boswellia. Fat chance finding the mussel and I found the boswellia, but Katy neglects to say how much. So wasn’t I so grateful when I found a product at the local feed store called ArthiSoothe by NaturVet, which has both glucosamine and chondroitin, but also the two elusive remedies! All measured out! So that little pill you see in the center of Conner’s dish, is that. I just add one a day. I also, depending on how he seems, day to day, am giving him one pellet of 6x arnica at night, because I contacted Boiron (who makes it) and they told me 6x for localized ailments, 30x for all over ailments. Bingo. This is a good combo and I can really tell the difference. So that happened. And maybe it’s useful to you.
Now. Back to the supplements they each get just to stay healthy. I add to kibble: bone meal, cod liver oil, kelp, turmeric, fresh rosemary, brewer’s yeast, and, critically, and I can’t believe this isn’t common knowledge and practice, about 2-3 T. of warm water, stirring it up. They are so happy I started adding the water. It makes such a difference. Understandably.

So that’s how we start the day, after they have exercised out of doors, of course.

Now, I want to mention two other books which have very much influenced what I feed the dogs. First strong influence was Dr. Richard Pitcairn. Here’s his old book which is dogeared now. Pretty sure he has a newer edition. Get it!


Then I discovered Andi Brown’s book The Whole Pet Diet, and while I’m not following it to the letter of the law, it expanded what I was already doing and encouraged me to experiment more. So essentially, at noon(ish) the dogs get:
a grain (or two), protein, and a vegetable–all cooked. Grains include one or more of the following: basmati rice, or sticky rice, or quinoa, or millet or barley. Sometimes I add oats, but rarely. Protein is usually free range chicken or fish or chicken livers (only organic from the health food store; you would not believe the difference!), or ground beef (locally grazed and butchered cows), or organic free range eggs, though less often, and sometimes cottage cheese.
Veggies in winter are often squash. I usually bake something like kabocha or spaghetti squash or butternut squash once a week and they get most of it. If I’m cooking chicken, I do it in water so I can heat their food with broth (my preference) and in the broth I’m simultaneously cooking celery and carrots, which they get. I love to give them pumpkin puree, and there are years when I focus in fall on cooking a lot of them and storing puree in the freezer. This year I bought a lot of pumpkin cans during the holidays (on sale, organic with healthy cans) and stored, so I can open one of those if need be. Baked sweet potato is another excellent choice. Here’s a typical meal:

red quinoa, basmati rice, chicken livers and spaghetti squash in broth

I love cooking basmati rice and red quinoa together. So easy. (You do have to remember to rinse it off first to eliminate any arsenic.) So there’s always something available and I’m simply heating up whatever is on hand at noon. Simple and makes for very happy healthy dogs!
If you’ve ever had Border Collies you know they can create little routines you had no intention as establishing as daily! So I have to say that these two have roped me into giving them a piece of fruit or a raw carrot (or whatever–peanut butter, from the health food store with no sugar, is a fave) at dusk. When I’ve extra time (haha) I sometimes bake them dog cookies. :)


I hope this post serves you. I look forward to your comments!

Love and doggie blessings,
Kathryn xoxo
Footnote: Folks have been privately emailing me concerned about peanut butter for various reasons. I say this: very small spoonfuls now and then, maybe on a piece of apple or pear, I think are fine, as long as you’re not buying commercial big box store peanut butter ladened with xylitol and sugar and heaven only knows what else! Salt, maybe. As with everything, the less a food has been “messed with” the better off you are and your doggies are. :)

Book News: Two new articles have appeared this last week, happily! One is in DIG-IT Magazine, the second on Flora’s Forum, where I have agreed to be an ongoing contributor. My thanks to the editors for the opportunity to share my voice. ~ Lastly, I would love to share that if you’ve read Plant Whatever Brings You Joy and you have an account at Amazon and are so inclined, a review on Amazon goes a long way in the Marketing Department and does this writer’s heart so much good to hear how you loved the book. Thank you for considering! xoxo

Very yummy tapioca pudding!


During the Christmas holiday I pulled my beloved Grandmother’s pudding bowls out of the cupboard, excited to find time to make tapioca pudding, which I love! I use a recipe I think I pulled decades ago out of the Pacific Sun when we still lived in Marin Co. It’s a teeny bit time consuming but absolutely delicious and I’m happy to share with you. And I’m particularly happy to share with my dear blogging friend Liz in the UK, who has recently educated me that while tapioca pudding is common in the UK, it’s apparently most often associated with a gloppy mixture served in the cafeteria at public schools, I believe with a dollop of jam or some such concoction, so let’s undo that memory with this new good one, shall we??

If you are like I am you grew up with Minute Tapioca and never really took the time to figure what it actually is. We are using pearl tapioca from the health food store for this recipe, and, for the record, tapioca is extracted from the root of the cassava plant, known originally in South America but now cultivated and used worldwide.

So here we go. You will be needing these ingredients:


1/2 cup pearl tapioca
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large organic eggs, separated
1 tsp. pure vanilla

First, soak the pearl tapioca in two cups of room temperature water overnight. Drain before using.

Heat the milk in a double boiler just until no longer cold. Add the pearl tapioca and the salt. Then continue heating the mixture until tiny bubbles begin to appear around the edges of the milk. Cover the mixture, turning heat to very low, and cook for one hour. You need not stir, but you must make sure the mixture neither simmers nor boils, so a bit of monitoring is in order.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light yellow in color. Then add a bit of the hot mixture to the egg yolk mixture and blend thoroughly. Now add the egg yolk mixture to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly. Place the double boiler over medium heat and cook about 15 minutes, until the pudding is very thick. I stir often during this process.

Beat the egg whites until stiff.


Then slowly fold the hot tapioca pudding mixture into the egg whites. Lastly stir in the vanilla.
Ladle into dishes.

This is heaven in a dish! You may serve warm (best) or wait and serve chilled.


I hope you will be inspired to make this at home and serve to your family, who will be most grateful! I think it’s especially comforting after a winter’s meal. Let me know!

Love and kitchen blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Latest news is that I’ve accepted an invitation to be a monthly contributor to a group blog called Flora’s Forum, which I think you will enjoy. Please see my blogroll for link. It’s an interesting bunch of contributors and I’m looking forward to adding my voice. Thanks to Sandra Knauf for the invitation. Also watch for an upcoming excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in Western North Carolina Woman. Lastly, many thanks to those of you who purchased copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy as holiday gifts for your loved ones. So much appreciated!
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