Showing posts with label Foraging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Foraging. Show all posts

Mar 27, 2017

Early Spring Edible Weed Walk

Come walk with me and I'll show you a variety of early spring weeds that are edible, nutritious, and delicious! We've been enjoying these edibles since early February, and chances are, you have many of these edibles in your yard or surrounding areas, too.

To learn more about these edible weeds, click the links below.

(Also see my book The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook.)
Siberian Miner's Lettuce - coming soon!

Feb 23, 2017

Foraging for Chickweed

It may not officially be spring, but the plants in my neck of the woods are acting like it is. And that means (among other things) that a lot of wild spring edibles are popping up. In fact, I seem to find a new forage-worthy weed every day. That makes me happy.

One edible weed I recently discovered on our property is one you're just as likely to find in the city as in the country, on the West Coast as the East Coast, and in the U.S. as elsewhere in the world: Chickweed (otherwise known as Starweed, Chickenwort, Winter weed, or Stellaria media).
Chickweed's 5 petals look like 10.

Identifying Chickweed

Chickweed grows in a wide variety of areas, including lawns and mow strips - and it grows prolifically. It has tiny white flowers with 5 petals each - but the petals are so deeply split, at first glance, it appears the flowers have 10 petals each.

The stems of chickweed are distinctive in that they have a line of white "hairs" on one side. They also do not contain a milky sap - something that differentiates chickweed from similar weeds. Chickweed's smooth leaves are oval with pointed tips.
Chickweed's stems have a line of fine "hairs."

The plant is easy to spot because it grows in clumps or masses that creep along the ground. It tends to
grow most abundantly in the spring and fall, when the weather is cooler and moist, and generally prefers damp and shady areas.

One final test to know whether or not you've got chickweed: Bend a stem and turn each part of the stem in the opposite direction. Gently pull; the outer part of the stem will break and separate, but an inner part will not break. In fact, it will stretch a little.

Chickweed has two poisonous lookalikes (Scarlet Pimpernel and spurge), but if you look for the 5 petals that look like 10, the line of hair on the stem, the lack of milk in the stem, and the stem with the inner stretchy part, you can be sure you have real chickweed.
An important test to make sure you identify chickweed correctly.

There is also mouse-ear chickweed (cerastium vulgatum), which is edible, but only when cooked. It's distinguished from regular chickweed by it's very dark green, mouse ear shaped leaves that, unlike regular chickweed, are covered with fine hairs.

NOTE: Do not consume any plant you cannot positively identify.

Eating Chickweed

Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible, either raw or cooked. And it's a superfood! Chickweed is packed with nutrients, having 6 times more vitamin C than spinach, 12 times more calcium, and 83 times more iron.  It also contains Omega-3 fatty acids, bioflavoinoids, beta-carotene, B vitamins, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and zinc.

Try chickweed in a salad, or add it to a sandwich, like you would sprouts. It also makes a nice pesto or can be added to soups, omelettes, quiches, or pretty much any dish where you'd normally use spinach. In fact, cooked chickweed tastes similar to spinach. Raw, it tastes like a mild lettuce.
Chickweed grows in a clump.
Mouse Ear Chickweed is distinguished by it's hairy leaves. Courtesy
Stefan.lefnaer and Wikimedia.

Chickweed Medicine

Chickweed has long been used in herbal medicine, too. Taken internally in the form of tea or tincture, it's used for complaints such as stomach and intestinal problems, arthritis, asthma and other lung ailments, kidney disorders, and vitamin C deficiency. In addition, chickweed can be used externally to treat eczema, psoriasis, minor wounds, boils, abscesses, burns, itching, and joint pain.

WARNINGS: Those who are allergic to daisies should not eat chickweed. Never eat any wild food you cannot identify 100%.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Oct 11, 2016

Yarrow: A Common Weed That's Good Medicine

Back when we lived in the suburbs, my neighbors sometimes gave me some preeeetty strange looks. Imagine me knocking on a neighbor's door: "Hi! How are you today? I was just wondering if you'd mind if I picked some of your weeds. I use them to make medicine for my family."

No one ever said no, and a few even smiled and told me stories about how their granny used to do the same thing, but most of them raised their eyebrows, muttered something about it being okay, and then shut the door, shaking their heads at me. I'm sure a few even started referring to me by my strange hobby: "Look, honey! It's the weed lady!"

But in the suburbs, I systematically learned to identify local weeds (mostly by using Google), then researched them to see if they were useful in any way. Now I have the pure pleasure of learning the useful weeds on our rural homestead. So when I spotted a certain wildflower - a very common weed called yarrow - I was pretty darn excited. It's an extremely useful herb.

Identifying Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) is a plant that can be found both in the wild and in gardening centers and domestic gardens. But, as with all medicinal herbs, the wild versions are far better medicine. (The medicinal qualities have largely been bred out of domesticated versions.)

Unlike their colorful domestic siblings, wild yarrow is a white or pale lavender flower - actually, clusters of tiny umbellate-shaped, five-petaled flowers with yellow stamens. Yarrow usually blooms between June and September, though in mild climates it may bloom further into fall. The flowers sit on long, straight stalks and the entire plant is aromatic, smelling a bit like chamomile. The leaves are feather-like, and grow all along the stem. The stems can grow to about 3 -5 feet tall. The roots are rhizome-like and are near the surface of the earth.

Yarrow is common along road sides, in grasslands, on rocky beaches, in meadows, and in the open areas around woods. It is also known as warrior plant, squirrel’s tale, mille foil, thousand leaf, wound wort, and nosebleed plant.

NOTE: Do not consume any plant you cannot positively identify.

Close up of yarrow flowers.

Harvesting and Preserving Yarrow 

Yarrow flowers, leaves, and roots are all useful. The flowers are high in aromatic oils and should be gathered when dry and fully open (but not turning brown). The leaves are higher in tannins and may be harvested any time, though herbalists say they are more potent in spring and early summer. The root is primarily used for toothaches and is usually harvested in fall.

To facilitate using yarrow all year long, the roots, leaves, and flowers are typically dried before use. People have been air drying medicinal herbs for thousands of years, and you certainly can preserve them that way today; but if you have a food dehydrator, I recommend using it (at about 95 degrees F.). It will dry the herb more quickly and retain more of the medicinal qualities of the plant. Store in a glass jar with an air tight lid in a cool, dark, dry location. The dried herb will last several years; as long as it is still aromatic, it has some medicinal qualities left in it.

Drying yarrow with an electric dehydrator.

How to Use Yarrow 

Yarrow is antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relieving), astringent, vulnerary (heals wounds), and styptic (ends bleeding). Herbalists consider it cooling, drying, and a bitter.

Yarrow flowers and leaves.
Bleeding: For thousands of years, people have used yarrow to help stop bleeding. (One of this plant's common names, "warrior plant," even hints at this important historical use.) Today we know yarrow contains alkaloids that are proven to reduce clotting time, and achilletin and achilleine that help blood coagulate. Use dried, powdered yarrow, or chew fresh leaves until the juices are coming out of the plant. (Traditionally, the wounded person was encouraged to do the chewing so he could swallow the juices in his mouth.) Apply as a poultice directly onto the wound. Traditionally, a strong yarrow tea was used for internal bleeding. (Of course, if you have serious bleeding, you should go to the emergency room.) 

Fevers: Another very common use for yarrow is reducing fevers. Yarrow tea causes the body to sweat, which naturally helps reduce fever. 

Heart: Yarrow tea is also often used to dilate peripheral blood vessels and treat high blood pressure.

Sedative: Yarrow tea relieves anxiety and insomnia.

Reproductive: Yarrow tea is said to help regulate the menses, bring on a late period (not caused by pregnancy), reduce cramps, and reduce heavy menstrual bleeding. (Scientific studies show yarrow contains phytoestrogens, which act like estrogen in the body; this means that in women who have a good balance of hormones, prolonged use might lead to a hormone imbalance.)
Circulatory: Yarrow is said to help improve varicose veins, hemorrhoids, phlebitis, thrombosis, and generally improves circulation.

Diuretic: Yarrow tea is a mild diuretic and may relieve cystitis, irritable bladder, and stones. 
Yarrow's feathery leaves.
Anti-inflammatory: Yarrow is said to relieve painful joints, hemorrhoids, and is known to generally reduces swelling.

Colds/Flu: Yarrow tea is recommended at the first sign of a cold and is said to relieve sore throats and act as a decongestant. Herbalists say the tea is not only warming, but stimulates the immune system and helps you "sweat out" the sickness.

Astringent: Yarrow is a mild astringent, good for oily skin. (Make yarrow tea and allow it to cool before splashing it on the face or applying it with a cotton ball.) It also helps tighten pores. 

Minor cuts/scrapes/rashes/bug bites/stings: Yarrow is excellent for all these minor complaints. It reduces the swelling and pain and will help prevent infection. Chew fresh leaves and apply to the affected area. 

Toothache: Yarrow root helps relieve the pain from toothaches and may help any infection in the area. Hydrate dried root with a little water, then apply to the tooth.

Digestive: Yarrow tea soothes spasms and cramps in the digestive tract, including those from IBS or gallbladder attacks. It's also good for the liver and gallbladder.

Bug repellent: Yarrow tincture or essential oil helps repel insects. 
Closeup of yarrow's leaves.
Immune System & Infection: Yarrow has long been used to stimulate the immune system. It also has antimicrobial properties and may prevent infections, including viral and urinary. 

Good Food: Yarrow is good food, too! The young spring leaves and flowers are sometimes used in salads and soups.

Good for Plants: Yarrow is great for other plants. It's roots seek out and readily absorb potassium, copper, and phosphorus; therefore yarrow is sometimes chopped up and used as mulch around the garden. 

Basic Yarrow Tea
Place about one tablespoon of chopped flowers, or leaves, or both, in a tea ball. Place tea ball in a cup and cover with boiling water. Cover cup with a saucer until steaming stops. Steep at least 10 -15 minutes. Drink up to three times a day. To help with fever, reheat and drink as hot as comfortably possible and take hourly until fever breaks.


According to The University of Maryland Medical Center's website (and other sources), yarrow has not been tested on children or nursing infants. Pregnant women should not take yarrow because it could potentially cause miscarriage. One study has also linked yarrow use in pregnant women to low birth weight in infants.

Allergies are possible; if you are allergic to anything in the Asteraceae (aster) family (that includes chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed), you should not consume yarrow.

Yarrow may interfere with iron absorption or the absorption of minerals. Do not use yarrow if you have gallstones. Yarrow may negatively interact with blood pressure and blood thinning drugs and should not be taken if you are already taking a diuretic or sedative. It may also counter-act drugs used to diminish stomach acid.

Yarrow may cause contact dermatitis (rash) in some people. It may cause your skin to be more sensitive to sunlight. 

It is always wise to consult your physician before taking any type of natural supplement

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Jun 28, 2016

How to Forage, Clean, & Eat Lobster Mushrooms (with Roasted Lobster Mushrooms in Clarified Butter recipe)

I confess it: I've never been much of a mushroom person. But until recently the only mushrooms I'd ever eaten were button mushrooms found in the grocery store or on pizza. And as much as I love to forage for wild foods, foraging for mushrooms has always scared me: Every year, I hear stories about people who've seriously poisoned themselves by picking and eating misidentified wild mushrooms.

But my dad-in-law is a huge mushroom fan, and he's been telling me about a friend of his who's a mushroom expert. And, Dad claimed, he had an easy to identify mushroom growing on his property that he just had to try eating. So yesterday morning, when he mentioned he wanted to go pick some lobster mushrooms and hinted he'd like me to look into cleaning and cooking them, I decided to give it a go. (I did ask, "Are we sure we can't mistake them for something poisonous?" To which he replied, "No, we can't. I even showed one to my friend to make sure I was identifying them correctly." Further research revealed there are no poisonous look-alikes to the lobster mushroom.)

What Lobster Mushrooms Taste Like

Lobster mushroom.
First, you probably want to know what lobster mushrooms taste like. I found their flavor difficult to describe, in part because it varied slightly from mushroom to mushroom. However, to me they are reminiscent of a white meat in both texture and flavor, with mild overtones of seafood - and the butter I cooked them in. My dad-in-law and husband, however, thought these mushrooms were reminiscent of steak; I suspect this was due to the way I roasted them.

I was impressed by the mushroom's texture. It was not at all mushy, but firm and meaty. Again, I don't normally like mushrooms, but I found lobster mushrooms absolutely delicious.

If you're curious about how healthy these mushrooms are, you should know they are mostly carbohydrate (about 3 grams per cup), along with a small amount of fiber and protein (1 gram each per cup) and some iron and calcium.

Identifying Lobster Mushrooms

Lobster mushrooms are unique and tough to misidentify. Look for their bright red-orange color, which looks a bit like the red-orange on lobsters. We found our specimens growing on a north facing hill where Douglas Fir and Hemlock trees grew. Much of what we harvested was mostly buried beneath moss and weeds; fortunately, the mushrooms' bright color made them easy to spot.

Most of the mushrooms we found were largely buried under moss and weeds.
Lobster mushrooms have an irregular shape - in part because they are actually two fungi. They consist of the host, which is either a Russulas or Lactarius mushroom, and a parasite called Hypomyces. The Hypomyces infects the mushroom, transforming it into the deformed, dense, and roughly textured thing we call a lobster mushroom. The mushroom's caps often have cracks in them and the mushroom has no gills. Depending upon where you live, lobsters are available most of the year, or mainly in the fall. For more tips on properly identifying lobster mushrooms, click over to

WARNING: Never, ever eat any wild food you cannot absolutely identify. It's just not worth the risk!

We found our lobster mushrooms on a north facing hill.
Foraging for Lobster Mushrooms

For best flavor, choose only the best specimens. Look for mushrooms with the characteristic bright red-orange color, that have few cracks in the caps. Slugs and snails, as well as deer and probably other wild critters, love to eat lobster mushrooms, so try to find mushrooms that aren't nibbled on. Before cooking lobster mushrooms, cut them in half to check for freshness. If they are good for eating, the interior will be very white. If the interior is browned at all, it's best to toss the mushroom.

It's best to remove the mushrooms by cutting the stems.
As a reminder: When foraging, be a good steward. Get permission to forage on private land, and make sure you understand state and federal rules about foraging on public land. Even when foraging on your own land, use care to ensure next year's harvest. With lobster mushrooms, the best way to do that is to cut the mushroom off its stem, rather than pull it from the ground. Always leave some mushrooms exactly as they are in the ground so they can send out spores to produce mushrooms for future foraging by humans and animals.

Cleaning and Storing Lobster Mushrooms

A few minute's worth of harvest!
Once you have the mushrooms home, you can prepare them for storage or for immediate use.

Preparing for storage: Lobster mushrooms are best eaten within three days of harvesting, but may store for as long as seven days. To prep them for storage, simply brush off as much dirt as possible. A clean pastry brush or paint brush works well for this. Then gently place the mushrooms in a paper bag, roll the top of the bag closed, and place in the refrigerator.

Preparing to eat: Once you're ready to eat some lobster mushrooms, you'll need to clean them in earnest. Although many mushrooms are ruined by washing, lobster mushrooms do just fine if cleaned in water: Fill a bowl with water, then add the mushrooms. Slosh them gently in the water and let them sit for a minute, then use a fabric or paper towel to gently brush away the remaining dirt.

Cleaning the mushrooms. Eat only the mushrooms that are bright red-orange. I had to discard the mostly white one at the top of the photo because it was brown on the inside and not suitable for eating.
When you cut open a good lobster mushroom, the inside should look bright white.
How to Cook Lobster Mushrooms

There are many ways to cook lobster mushrooms, but simple recipes are the best way to get a feel for the texture and taste of this unique fungi. Here's how I cooked them.

Roasted Lobster Mushrooms in Clarified Butter

Lobster mushrooms
Clarified butter (Learn how to easily make it here. You could also use ordinary butter, though the flavor of the dish will be slightly different.)
Sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Cut cleaned lobster mushrooms in half. For larger mushrooms, cut in quarters.

3. Place an oven proof skillet over medium heat. Once it's warmed a little, add a couple of tablespoons of clarified butter. Once the butter is warm, gently add the mushrooms, cut side down.

4. Cook the mushrooms until browned, then turn and cook another side. Season with sea salt and pepper. As you cook, the mushrooms will give off a seafood-like scent. Keep cooking, turning the mushroom until all sides are browned. Periodically, spoon butter that's already in the skillet over the cooking mushrooms.

5. Place the skillet in the oven and set the timer for about 12 minutes.

6. In the meantime, chop the onion. (I cooked two medium sized mushrooms, and used about 1/4 of a yellow onion, and had more onion than I really needed.) Place a skillet over medium heat and add a little clarified butter. Once the butter is warm, add the onion and cook and stir until softened and golden brown. Keep warm over low heat.

7. After 12 minutes, check the mushrooms. They should be well browned, looking a lot like meat. Plate the mushrooms and sprinkle some cooked onion over them. Serve immediately.

May 2, 2016

Foraging Cleavers for Food and Medicine

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

Even though I don't have a garden right now, I'm still finding food to harvest from my yard. That's because God has provided us with a bounty of weeds that are good to eat - and most of them are "super food," packed with nutrients.

My season for eating fresh dandelion leaves is over because now the plants are blooming. (This makes the leaves awfully bitter - though there are ways around that. See my Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook for details.) Currently, we're eating the flowers. (Here's a favorite recipe.) Plantain is out and about, and is both good to eat and medicinal. Yellow dock is beginning to appear. Sow thistle, which is best when young, is cropping up. But lately, we've been focusing on cleavers (Galium aparine) - one of my children's favorites.

How to Identify Cleavers
Cleavers cling to nearly anything, including other plants.
(Courtesy Hugo.arg and Wikimedia Commons.)

In my yard, cleavers are among the easiest weeds to identify. Cleavers is a vining plant with long, thin leaves, and little bristles ("hooks" that bend toward the bottom of the plant) that tend to cling - or "cleave" - to just about anything it touches. (There's even a rumor that cleavers inspired the creation of Velcro.) The lowest leaves of the plant are petioled and rather round, whereas the upper leaves are sessile and shaped rather like narrow ovals. Cleaver plants can be 2 or 3 feet long when mature, and while they sometimes climb nearby plants or fences, they tend to grow horizontally across the ground. 

Cleavers are also sometimes called clivers, goose grass (because geese love to eat them), catchweed, or sweet woodruff (the latter being it's own variety of cleavers that is medicinal, but toxic when consumed in large quantities). Cleavers grow throughout the United States, and through much of Canada and Mexico, as well as in many other parts of the world.
Cleaver leaves have distinctive, oval shape leaves that appear on the plant in a circular pattern. (This photo and title photo courtesy of Harry Rose.)

What Do Cleavers Taste Like?

To me, cleavers taste like many other greens you are probably familiar with, like kale. They have a slightly bitter taste, much like some slightly bitter salad greens and not nearly as bitter as, say, dandelion leaves. Don't let that slight bitterness scare you, though. Even my children like to eat cleavers!

How to Eat Cleavers

Most often, my kids and I pick the young tips of cleavers and eat them raw. You'll see where the newest leaves grow in a cluster at the end of each vining end of the plant. Pinch these young leaves off and chew well before swallowing.

The newest leaves, or tips, of the cleaver are most edible. (Courtesy of Harry Rose.)
(I remember reading once that a foraging expert ate some raw cleavers during a class and didn't chew well. The plant clung to his throat, causing him to choke a bit before couching the plant back up! I have never had this happen, and I think it's because I eat only the youngest leaves, or "tips.")

But if you want to make absolutely sure cleavers stop clinging, you'll want to cook them. Pinch off the younger leaves and boil them for about 10 - 15 minutes. This will remove the clinging "hooks." After cooking, cleavers can be used like any green. For example, you can add them to omelets, rice, enchiladas, or smoothies.

As the plant ages, the leaves are less and less edible, becoming tough and more hairy. If there are buds or flowers on the plant, it's much too mature to eat.

I've also read that cleaver seeds - roasted at a low temperature - can be brewed into a caffeine-free coffee substitute. (Find complete directions here.)

Making Medicine with Cleavers
Courtesy NATT at NKM.

Traditionally, cleaver leaves (old or young and dehydrated) were used to make a tea or tincture to treat kidney problems (including kidney stones), to help treat fever, and to act as a diuretic. They were also mashed up and applied to stings and bites. Most herbalists also believe cleavers improve the immune system and act as a cleansing tonic; cleavers may also act as a gentle sleep aid.

Mountain Rose Herbs says cleavers are good medicine for hypertension, psoriasis, eczema, and general skin care (including rashes). The plant's leaves also make a nice addition to hair rinses.

Many sources claim cleavers have been scientifically tested and found anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, too. First Ways also recommends clever tea for swollen lymph nodes.

You can read more about the medicinal properties of cleavers at The Homeopathic Information Service website.

CAUTIONS: Most herbalists recommend consuming only small amounts of cleavers, since it's considered strong medicine. People on blood pressure medication should not consume cleavers (since it the combo of cleavers and their prescription may lower their blood pressure more than is safe). Those on diuretics or kidney medication should consult a physician before consuming cleavers. In addition, pregnant women should avoid cleavers. Some people are allergic to cleavers and may get a rash (contact dermatitis) when they touch the plant; if this happens to you, do not under any circumstances eat cleavers. As with all new-to-you plants, when trying cleavers for the first time, it's a good idea to crush a few leaves and rub them over your skin. Wait 24 hours before consuming any cleavers. It's also smart to eat just a few leaves the first time you eat cleavers, or any other wild food. If you are allergic to plants in the Rubiaceae family, you should not consume cleavers.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Feb 9, 2015

Mullein: The Common Weed That's Good Medicine

On this blog not long ago, I mentioned giving my sick husband mullein tea; I wanted to include a link to where I'd posted about the medicinal properties of this common weed - but soon discovered I'd never made such a post! Somehow, I'd neglected to share this important plant with you. So although mullein won't appear in your yard or wilderness areas until spring, I want to share information about mullein now. That way, when you do spot mullein growing in your area, you can harvest some of the plant for your medicine cabinet.

Many herbal recipes aren't proven by science - primarily because there is little to no profit in spending time and money on testing them. But mullein, in many cases, has been tested and found beneficial. My family has greatly benefited from this herb - so much so, I let it grow in my yard, wherever the wind and birds plant it's seeds. Yes, even if it's in the middle of the tomato patch!

Identifying Mullein

Mullein is sometimes called "cowboy toilet paper" because it has velvety soft leaves that, could, I suppose, serve as toilet paper. (But those leaves also have little hairs on them, so I wouldn't personally want to use it in place of TP!) In the mullein's first year, it grows a rosette of those soft, elongated, oval, gray-green leaves that stay low to the ground.
Mullein in it's first year. (Courtesy of Hardyplants at English Wikipedia.)
In the plant's second year, it grows a tall stem without branches. Depending upon growing conditions, this stem can get quite high - at least several feet, up to around six feet.
Mullein in it's second year. (Courtesy of Magnus Manske and Wikimedia.)
The plant's stem-less yellow flowers (about 1 1/2 inches across when fully open) grow on this pole-like stem and bloom from late spring to early fall
Mullein beginning to bloom. (Courtesy Leslie Seaton and Wikimedia.)
Mullein blooming. (Courtesy MPF and Wikimedia.
Mullein flower. (Courtesy H. Zell and Wikimedia.)
Mullein Flowers as Medicine

Mullein flower oil (or an infusion of the flowers in olive oil) has long been used as an ear infection cure, and two scientific studies support claims that it works at least as well - and perhaps better than - antibiotics. Mullein flowers are also sometimes used to treat gout and migraines, as well as bruises, rashes, and skin irritations.

Mullein Leaves as Medicine

Mullein leaves are analgesic (pain relieving), antihistaminic (for treating allergic reactions), anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, antiviral, inhibits bacterial growth, and works as a fungicide. In addition, mullein leaves are traditionally used to treat diarrhea and congestion in the chest. They've been used to treat wounds, hemorrhoids, and skin infections, too. Web MD notes that mullein is used for "cough, whooping cough, tuberculosis, bronchitis, hoarseness, pneumonia, earaches, colds, chills, flu, swine flu, fever, allergies, tonsillitis, and sore throat. Other uses include asthma, diarrhea, colic, gastrointestinal bleeding, migraines, joint pain, and gout. It is also used as a sedative and as a diuretic to increase urine output." In addition, a tea made from the leaves helps relieve hemorrhoidal irritation or perineal itching. (For ease of application, place the tea in a sitz bath.)

Mullein Roots as Medicine

Mullein roots are traditionally used for urinary and bladder control (including problems due to a swollen prostate). The roots are also a diuretic and a mild astringent.

According to herbalist Jim McDonald, “One of my students used an infusion of Mullein root to treat Bell's Palsy that occurred as a complication of Lyme's disease, and it resolved the problem completely. Years after that David Winston told me he'd been using it for Bell's Palsy for well over a decade, and considered it useful in other cases of facial nerve pain…”

More commonly, a decoction of the roots is used to treat toothaches, and to stop cramps and convulsions. The roots may also be used to treat migraines and sciatica.
Mullein leaves. (Courtesy John Tann and Wikimedia).

Tea of leavesPack a tea ball with dried leaves. Pour boiling water into a cup, add the tea ball, and steep. Cover with a saucer while steeping, until the tea stops steaming.

Tea of roots: Boil 1 tablespoon of dried root in 1 cup water for 10 - 15 min. Pour the liquid through a coffee filter or double layer of cheesecloth. Drink up to 3 cups per day.

Compress of flowers: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of dried flowers; cover. Steep until cool; strain. Soak a clean cloth in the tea, wring it out and place it on the affected areas. Cover the compress with plastic wrap. Change it twice daily.

Steam: Add a handful of flowers to a bowl of hot water. Cover head with a towel and deeply inhale the vapors.

Oil of flowers (for Ear Infections/Ear Wax Build Up/ Infected Piercings/Ear Mites in animals):  Pick fresh flowers and let them wilt for a few hours to reduce their moisture content. Put the flowers in a clean glass jar. Fill the jar with olive oil. (You might need to top it off the following day.) Cap the jar and place it in a warm location for about a month. Strain through a coffee filter or a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour into a clean glass jar. Apply with a Q-tip. (Mullein flower oil is often combined with infused garlic oil.)

CAUTIONS: When using Mullein leaves, always strain them from liquid, since they have little hairs that can prove irritating. The entire Mullein plant is said to possess slightly sedative and narcotic properties; personally, my family has never experienced these. The seeds of Mullein are considered toxic and have been historically used as a narcotic.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Feb 2, 2015

Dandelion Leaf Green Smoothie

This past month, my family's been enjoying dandelion leaves in all manner of dishes, but one of our current favorites is in smoothies. If you've had a good, hard frost, or if the snow is melted and the dandelion leaves are coming up, you, too can enjoy this super food drink. (If you don't get hard frost or snow, all is not lost. You can blanch dandelions with a box, for example - something I explain in my book The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook.)

As it turns out, common dandelion leaves from what most people consider a pesky garden weed, aren't native to North America. They were brought here by European immigrants who prized them as a food source. And no wonder! Dandelions are one of the best greens you can eat, beating out spinach in terms of protein, vitamins A, C, K, Omega 6, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Yes, dandelion leaves are very, very good for you.

The trick is to catch them before they get bitter. To do that, you must pick the leaves before the plant begins blooming, and ideally after it's been quite cold. Even so, this smoothie recipe will cover up leaves that are slightly bitter. Oh, and if you wish, you can substitute other greens for the dandelion leaves; kale and spinach are especially yummy.

Dandelion Leaf Green Smoothie Recipe

To your blender (I use and love the Magic Bullet NutriBullet our Grammy gave us this Christmas):

1. Add about 1/2 cup (packed) of washed dandelion leaves. If you're unused to greens, you may wish to put in a bit less, or just not pack them down in the measuring cup.

2. Add 1 banana, broken into chunks. If you like icy smoothies, use a frozen banana.

3. Add about 3/4 cup of apple (or as much as you can add without going over the fill line). You can also use a ripe pear, instead, but we prefer the smoothie with apple.

4. Add enough liquid to almost come to the fill line. This is a very personal thing; add a lot if you like thinner smoothies, or add less if you like them thick. We like to use unsweetened almond or coconut milk, but you could use any type of milk - or even water (although I think this recipe tastes much better with milk).
5. If desired, you can sprinkle in some walnuts, but I don't always do this and it doesn't seem to affect the flavor of the smoothie.

6. Puree and drink drink away. Makes about 1 pint - enough for 2 people as a snack or supplement to a small meal, or enough for 1 person whose not eating anything else.


Ultimate Dandelion CookbookDid you know you can turn dandelion leaves, flowers, buds, stems, and roots into tasty and healthy treats? Learn more about eating and cooking with dandelions in my #1 Amazon Bestselling paperback or ebook, The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook.

For more information about harvesting and using dandelions, see these posts:

"Ah Sweet...Dandelions?" (including a recipe for cooking dandelion leaves)
How to Make Dandelion Tea (from the roots of the plant)
Making Dandelion Jelly
Teaching Children to Forage (with dandelion cookie recipe) 
Eating Dandelion Flowers
How to Preserve Dandelion Greens
Dandelion Flower Fritters
Dandelion Leaf Noodles
Dandelion Medicine 
How to Make Dandelion Wine
Dandelion Root Medicine: Where to Find It, How & Why to Use It

Cautions: According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, very rarely, people have reactions to dandelion. If you're allergic to "ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine, you should avoid dandelion. In some people, dandelion can cause increased stomach acid and heartburn. It may also irritate the skin. People with kidney problems, gallbladder problems, or gallstones should consult their doctors before eating dandelion." Dandelion is a diuretic, which means it may also make other medications less effective. To learn more about this, visit the University of Maryland Medical Center website.


Sep 29, 2014

Eating Groundnuts (Apios americana) - & Why You Might Want to Grow Them

Groundnuts from my garden.
A few years ago, I read about groundnuts (Apios americana, potato bean, hopniss, or "Indian potatoes"...not peanuts, which are also sometimes called ground nuts). I was instantly excited. Here is a vine with pretty flowers that doesn't mind some shade. And it produces food! And not just any food; the tubers contain 15 - 17% protein, much higher than the potato they taste a lot like. 

Groundnuts don't grow wild in my area, so I bought two tubers on eBay and planted them in a pot with well-draining soil. When the vines turned yellow in the fall, I tipped the pot over and discovered many more tubers had grown. They were all pretty small, though, so I replanted them in the pot. (I've since learned it takes two years to get tubers of edible size.)

Last summer, the plant thrived. It grew pretty green vines with pinkish flowers. When the vines turned yellow in the fall, I couldn't wait to tip the pot over and see if I had edible tubers. I did! Plus plenty of small ones to replant.

Groundnut flower.
Harvesting Ground Nuts

Groundnuts are unlike anything else I've ever seen. The tubers grow on "strings" (really roots). They remind me a bit of an old fashioned sausage string; tuber, root, tuber, root, tuber, root, all in one piece (see the photo, above). You'll want to put small tubers back in the soil so you'll have a crop for the future. Tubers that are at least 1/2 inch wide can be eaten. To prepare, just snap the tubers off their string-like root and scrub clean.

Cooking Groundnuts

When I researched recipes for ground nuts I realized three things:

1. Most people wait to harvest groundnuts until the first frost; like a lot of other root crops, the frost sweetens them.

2. Really, you cook groundnuts just like potatoes.

Some people peel their tough skin before cooking them, but most people boil the groundnut whole (skin on); the skin then comes easily before eating. 

Groundnuts are usually either boiled and chopped, fried, or roasted in the oven. Most people compare them to potatoes, but a few compare them to sweet potatoes, especially if roasted. I find they taste like a cross between a potato and a bean.

Please note that groundnuts take longer to cook than potatoes. For example, if you're boiling them for "mashed groundnuts," they'll need to boil about half an hour. Also, do try to avoid very large groundnuts, as they tend to cause gas.

3. You can eat the beans, too! Eat them cooked like green beans. (Oh, and the flowers are edible, too. Just remember, you want flowers and bean pods if you want your groundnuts to spread.)

Favorite Groundnut Recipes:

* Groundnut chips
* Groundnut flour
* Crock pot groundnuts and lamb 
* Glazed groundnuts