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

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

May 16, 2014

Dandelion Medicine: Using the Common Dandelion Medicinally

The more I learn about the common dandelion, the more I'm amazed at how unappreciated it is. If you're a regular reader, you already know what an excellent food dandelions are. (In fact, I wrote a whole  cookbook packed just with dandelion recipes.) But did you know that dandelions are great medicine, too? In Canada, dandelion is a registered health product, and for many, many centuries, the dandelion has been prized for its medicinal properties.

Dandelion roots, before dehydrating.
Dandelion Root Medicine

Perhaps the strongest dandelion medicine comes from the plant's roots, which are used to detoxify the liver (I can personally attest to how well this works), kidney, and gallbladder. Some believe the root may also help treat diabetes, yeast infections, gout, PMS (again, I've had great success here), and eczema. Dandelion root and the herb uva ursi have also been shown to reduce urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women. (Uva ursi is not safe for long term use, however.) The roots are also rich in inulin, which is a prebiotic that encourages healthy microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, so the root is great for upset stomach, too, and may be beneficial to diabetics.

Perhaps the most exciting use of dandelion root is the treatment of cancer. There are many anecdotal accounts of the root curing cancer (click here to read one), and currently the root is being studied scientifically for the treatment of cancer.

In addition, the roots are packed with beta-carotene, calcium, vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.

For medicinal purposes, the roots are usually dried and made into a tea (click here for a complete how to). The dried root can also be ground up in a coffee grinder and added to water or juice. In orange juice, there is no detectable flavor. Drink 2 - 3 times daily.

Dandelion Leaf Medicine
Dandelion leaf.

Dandelion leaves are a scientifically proven diuretic - meaning they increase the amount of urine the body produces, and thereby reduce swelling and bloating. And unlike most other diuretics, dandelion leaves won't cause a potassium deficiency. Dandelion leaves are also thought to improve kidney function and strengthen the immune system, as well as sooth an upset stomach and put an end to constipation.

The leaves also happen to be packed with vitamin A, B, C, and K, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, carotenes, and fiber.

You can eat dandelion leaves, just like you'd eat any other greens (like kale or collards). However, you have to catch them in the early spring, before they flower and become bitter. (Bitter leaves can be made less bitter by boiling them for a minute, then changing the water and boiling again for a minute, then changing the water again and boiling for one minute...but this process also decreases the nutrients and medicinal properties in the leaves.)

You can also puree the leaves in a smoothie, or make an infusion of the leaves. For the latter, Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D., writes in her book Herbal Medicine that you should use one pint of boiling water for every handful of leaves (and flowers, if available). Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. If desired, add a little honey to offset bitter leaves. Drink the infusion 2 - 3 times a day. Leaves may also be dehydrated and crumbled into a tea ball to brew medicinal tea.

Dandelion flower.
Dandelion Flower Medicine

Dandelion flowers are a known diuretic and are thought to improve the immune system. The flowers are also packed with antioxidants and are a superb source of lecithin - which is believed to maintain brain function and may slow or stop Alzheimer's disease. Lecithin is also supposed to be good for the liver. Additionally, dandelion flowers are a good source of vitamins A, B, and C, beta-carotene, iron, zinc, and potassium.

For the best medicinal results, use the flowers to make a simple tea that you may drink 2 - 3 times a day. Click here for a how to. The leaves may also be dehydrated and made into tea, but bear in mind older flowers will burst into seed in the dehydrator.

Dandelion Stem Medicine

Dandelion stems are traditionally used on scrapes and cuts, to speed healing. Just break open a dandelion stem and apply the sap to the affected area.


According to the website of Andrew Weil, M.D., "Dandelion is one of the least problematic medicinal herbs, especially given the fact that it has long been consumed as a food. However, people with ragweed allergy should be cautious when using dandelion, as it may cause an allergic reaction. In addition, people with an infected or inflamed gallbladder or blocked bile ducts should not use dandelion." The site also indicates that dandelion may decrease the effectiveness, or "adversely interact with" antibiotics; may "change the rate at which lithium medication leaves the body," and "the rate at which the liver breaks down certain medications."

For more information about harvesting and using dandelions for food, see these posts:
"Ah Sweet...Dandelions?"
"How to Make Dandelion Tea"
"Eating Dandelion Flowers"
"Making Dandelion Jelly"
"Teaching Children to Forage" (with dandelion cookie recipe) 

Want to learn more about eating and cooking with dandelions? Check out The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook!

NOTE: I am not a doctor. Before taking any herb, it is always best to talk to your doctor about it.

Feb 12, 2014

Dandelion or Spinach Noodle Recipe

One of the most popular recipes in my Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook, having been featured at several blogs (including Backyard Renaissance and Simply Homemaking), is Dandelion Noodles. But even if you've read that book, you may not know you can use the very same recipe for any type of green, from nettles to collards and kale to - yes! - ordinary old spinach.

If you've never made homemade noodles before, you're in for a treat. They are easy to make - and taste so much better than anything you can buy. I consider this a beginner's recipe - that is to say, the taste is very mild. If you already love dandelions or other greens, feel free to increase the amount of greens in the recipe.

Spinach Noodle Recipe (Dandelion Noodle Recipe, Nettle Noodle Recipe, or Other Greens Noodle Recipe)

1 1/4 cups greens (dandelion leaves, spinach leaves, etc. If using greens with thick stems running through the leaf, be sure to cut the stems out. Pack down the greens in the measuring cup.)
2 tablespoons water
1 egg
1 + cups  all purpose flour
Pack down the greens when measuring. By the way, on the left hand side is my fruit and vegetable keeper. I highly recommend it! I find it adds weeks to the life of my veggies.
1. Place the greens and water in a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium until the leaves are tender. Watch closely; if the water evaporates, add a tablespoon more. Don't allow the greens to scorch!

2. Add the egg and a pinch or two of salt, stirring to combine.

3. Carefully transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse until pureed. (Or, use a blender to puree the greens.)

4. Pour the leaf mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in 1 cup of flour. If the dough is still soft, add a little more flour and mix again, repeating until the dough is stiff. If the mixture is too dry, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until a stiff dough forms.

 5. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 1 minute. 

6. With a rolling pin, roll the dough very thin. Leave the dough untouched for 20 minutes. 

7.  Cut the noodles about 1/4 inch thick. (For the photos, I made the noodles pretty thick; my kids like them that way. But rolling the dough as thin as you can and cutting the noodles no more than 1/4 inch thick makes them more like the type of pasta you buy in the store.) If desired, you can loosely roll the dough into a cigar shape, cut into 1/4 inch strips, then unroll the noodles and cut them to whatever length you desire.

8. You may now cook the noodles, or you may dry or freeze them for storage.  

To dry the noodles, leave them in a single layer on the lightly floured counter, place them in a food dehydrator, or hang them on a pasta drying rack or a clothes drying rack. To avoid spoilage, be sure the noodles are completely dry before storing them. 

I personally never frozen fresh pasta, but you can. Just place the noodles flat on a baking sheet, or form into little "nests" and set them on a baking sheet; place the baking sheet in the freezer until the noodles feel solidly frozen, then transfer to an air tight freezer container for up to three months.

To cook the noodles right away, just toss into boiling water. Fresh pasta doesn't take as long to cook as dried or frozen pasta, so test for doneness frequently. (To test, just remove a strand of pasta with a fork, allow it to cool for a minute, then taste.) If it will be 2 hours or less before you need to cook the noodles, place them in an airtight container, or in a platter covered tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate and cook as soon as possible.

To serve, use whatever pasta sauce you like, or just butter the noodles.

Serves 2.

Dec 3, 2013

Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook - now in paperback!

Many readers have asked for a print version of my #1 bestselling ebook The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook. Now it's available!

The print version of The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook has all the same great recipes and information as the ebook, with black and white photos inside. It makes a great Christmas present, too, since the best dandelion greens are just around the corner - after the snow melts!

From Amazon:

"An Amazon #1 Bestseller!
Become a dandelion hunter! 148 dandelion recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and even dessert! What if someone told you one of the world’s most nutritious foods is also tasty, can be cooked many different ways, is easy to find, and is totally free? I know what I’d do: I’d run out and grab some! Well, the good news is, there is such a food: Dandelions. Yes, those pesky weeds with bright yellow flowers you’ve grown up thinking are the enemy of perfect lawns are actually food – brought to North America by immigrants who knew how valuable they are.
Every part of the dandelion is edible:
* Dandelion greens recipes are common throughout Europe and often used in salad, quiche, lasagna and other pasta dishes, and many other familiar and less-familiar dishes.
* The honey-like flowers are a healthy and tasty addition to bread, omelets, pancakes, and more – plus they make delectable dandelion wine, dandelion jelly, and dandelion wine.
* The buds are often pickled or added to stir frys and other dishes.
* The stems can be eaten like noodles.
* And the roots add coffee flavor to everything from ice cream and cakes to drinks. And let's not forget dandelion root tea!
The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook offers 148 recipes, plus expert advice and tips, for cooking all parts of the dandelion – one of nature’s best free foods.
Here's what readers have to say about the book:

"5 Stars. Here is what we had for dinner last night: Dandelion noodles, picked with revenge in my garden, and eaten up with zest! So great, and so easy to make this recipe from the brand-new Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook. You can see pictures on my blog."

Caleb Warnock
author of Backyard Winter Gardening and other books

* * *
"5 Stars. I was eager to read this book in order to find out the best ways to harvest, freeze and dry dandelion flowers. But what a delight to discover it also offered a treasure trove of info about the history, nutritional/ medicinal applications and new and traditional recipes for this humble, prolific plant. I was also surprised to learn about the different parts of the plant that could be used in cooking, especially the unopened bud. This book is worth it for the dandelion jelly recipe alone -- but, oh my! I can't wait to try the recipes for stem noodles -- and the dandelion tea . . . and the roasted roots . . . and the ice cream . . . and . . . ! I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about integrating fun and nutritious dandelion recipes into their diet. I consider it essential reading for fans of natural, wild foods and for culinary dabblers!"

Suzannah Doyle
Composer & Musician
* * *
"5 Stars. Kristina Seleshanko has created a wonderful collection of enticing recipes, all featuring those yellow-top, front yard pests: dandelions. She includes some rather expected dishes, like omelets, salads and soups. Other recipes, however, are likely to catch readers off guard, like pizza, soda, jellies, wine and even ice cream and cookies! What I enjoy most about this cookbook is the abundance of education. The author includes valuable nutritional information, but also instructions on how to harvest dandelions, how to preserve them and store and what alters the taste of these greens. She's obviously very knowledgeable. All in all, this book is an excellent value at a great price."

Tanya Dennis
Writer & Editor
* * *
 "5 Stars. What a fantastic book! I have seen dandelion recipes here and there, and am determined to try my hand at dandelion cordial, but this book has it all. The author went to great pains to give a very comprehensive book on dandelions in every form. With this book you will learn to use every part of the dandelion to make foods and beverages for every meal of the day. If you are interested in frugal living or just trying something a little different, get this book and get out in the yard and start picking!"

Jennifer Shambrook
Author of I Can Can Chicken!

The paperback of The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook is $13.29 on Amazon - and you can still get the Kindle ebook version for just $2.99. Order it today and have it in time for Christmas!

Jun 17, 2013

Foraging Yellow Dock + Yellow Dock Enchilada Recipe

Yellow dock
I've made it a habit to try to identify every weed that tends to grow in my yard; it's surprising how many are edible. Among my family's favorites is yellow dock (Rumex crispus; also known as curly dock).

Yellow dock makes it's first appearance in spring, as a plant with leaves that roll in on themselves like a cigarette or cigar. As the plant ages, the leaves at the bottom open up and grow quite large, and the plant grows taller, producing small, curled leaves at the top as it grows. Finally, the plant produces seeds - first green, then reddish brown. The leaves, seeds, and even the root of this plant are edible.

To identify yellow dock, look for arrow shaped leaves with the split, rounded shape of a heart near the stem. There is only one leaf per stem. Young stems are a pale green with reddish brown spots; older stems (such as the ones in the photo to the right) are mostly green. Fully opened leaves have reddish brown spots on them. If you're unsure if a plant is yellow dock, wait for the seeds to appear and turn their distinctive reddish brown.

Yellow dock leaves
Yellow dock's distinctive seeds.
Close up of yellow dock seeds.

Eating Yellow Dock Leaves

This is the most common part of the plant to eat. Once cooked, the leaves taste very much like spinach and are rich in vitamins C and A, iron, calcium, potassium, and beta carotene - but they also contain oxalic acid - a common ingredient in certain wild plants, as well as rhubarb and chocolate. However, oxalic acid, unless consumed in small doses, can be poisonous, so it's vital to always cook yellow dock leaves; if done as described below, harmful amounts of oxalic acid are removed. To cook yellow dock leaves:

1. Fill a pot with water and bring to a  boil.

2. Add clean, trimmed yellow dock leaves and boil for 1 minute.

3. Drain.

4. Repeat, using fresh water.

Note that, as with most plants, the larger the leaves are, the more bitter and fibrous they are. In cooking, use the leaves as you would cooked spinach. If you drain the leaves well after cooking them, you can also place them in a freezer bag and freeze them for later.

Eating Yellow Dock Seeds

Once the plant's seeds turn reddish brown, they are ready for harvesting.Stroke them off the plant with one hand, holding the branch over a container. Sift through the seeds and remove any debris. You may then toss the seeds into cooking oatmeal, or you may grind the seeds, hulls intact, with a coffee grinder, grain mill, or food processor (or, if you're really patient, a mortar and pestle). Now you've got yellow dock flour! Use it like any other flour - although I recommend adding some all purpose or whole wheat flour.

Yellow Dock Roots

Yellow dock roots are medicinal, and are harvested in the late summer or fall. They are long, so don't try to just pull up the plant; actually dig out the tap root instead. According to Web MD, yellow dock root is useful for inflammation and swelling in the respiratory tract and nasal passages. It's also a laxative and may aid the treatment of bacterial infections. It is also filled with antioxidants.

You may purchase the root in a capsule, or ready to drink as tea, or you may chop and dehydrate the roots, just like dandelions, to use for tea making.

You may also turn the roots into a tincture.
WARNING: If you have a history of oxalate kidney stones, you should not eat Yellow dock. 

Yellow Dock Enchilada Recipe

28 oz. red enchilada sauce

1 ½ cups yellow dock leaves, cooked

3 greens onions (scallions), chopped

1/3 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups shredded Co-Jack or cheddar cheese

½ lb. cooked ground beef or cooked, shredded chicken breast

About 8 (7 inch) flour tortillas
Sliced black olives (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a bowl, combine ½ cup enchilada sauce, dandelion leaves, onions, sour cream, and 1 cup cheese.
                                                            3. Spoon about ½ cup of enchilada sauce onto the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking dish.

4. Spoon about ¼ cup of the dandelion leaf mixture into a tortilla and roll up. Place, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

5. Spoon the remaining enchilada sauce over the rolled tortillas. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. If using, scatter sliced black olives over the top.

6. Bake until cheese is melted and filling is bubbly, about 20 minutes.

More yellow dock recipes:

Yellow dock seed crackers
Yellow dock clam soup

May 24, 2013

How to Cook Dandelion Greens (and other greens)...from 1890

I love old cookbooks, and one of the favorites in my collection is The White House Cookbook, copyright 1887 and 1890. Here's a little tid-bit about dandelions and other greens - a staple in most Victorian kitchens. Click on the image for easier reading.

Apr 22, 2013

Dandelion Flower Recipes: Making Dandelion Fritters

Last week, I posted a picture on Facebook (both the blog page and my personal page), showing my set up for turning dandelion flowers into tasty fritters. There was such a response, and so many people wanted to know how to make dandelion flower fritters themselves, that I decided I'd better post on the topic.

As it turns out, I'm in the middle of writing a dandelion cookbook. Dandelions are highly nutritious, available almost everywhere, and FREE. So I try to take advantage of them. And there are so many ways to cook them they do indeed deserve their own cookbook - which is why I only briefly mentioned them in A Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook.

How to Make Dandelion Fritters

What You'll Need:

About 3 handfuls (or less) of dandelion flower heads (no stems attached)
Olive oil
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cumin (optional)
2 teaspoons ground coriander (optional)
1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder

Tongs or a couple of forks for turning the flowers
Plate lined with paper towels

How to Do It:

1. I usually let the children gather the dandelion flowers. Then I let them sit outside for about 10 or 15 minutes so all the little insects crawl off them. If you want to, you can run cool water over them and pat them well dry; I'm too impatient for that. Do be sure, however, to only collect flower heads where you are certain no chemical sprays are used. Also avoid picking flowers near roadways because dandelions soak up all those car fumes.

2. Place the skillet over medium high heat and cover the bottom with oil. Give the oil some time to heat.

3. In the meantime, stir together the flour, a little salt and pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. In truth, you only really need the flour and baking powder, but we enjoy some spices mixed in. If you like, experiment with different spices.

4. Add water a little at a time, stirring in, until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
 5. Dip a flower in the batter, coating completely, and place it flower side down in the hot oil in the skillet. Repeat until the skillet is full of dipped flower heads. Cook until the batter is crispy, then turn the flowers over with tongs (or forks) and cook the opposite side. It's important to fully cook the batter on the flowers so it's crispy, not mushy.

6. Remove the finished flowers and place on the plate lined with paper towels.

Trust me; these are YUMMY!

Want to learn more about eating and cooking with dandelions? Check out The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook!

Mar 8, 2013

Eating Weeds: Sow Thistle

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is one of my family's favorite weeds to eat. The flavor varies somewhat between raw broccoli and raw radish - although I've heard some people describe it as tasting more like spinach. It makes an excellent addition to salads - or you can saute it like dandelion leaves or other greens. And while the plant is edible all year (until the frost kills it back), I think the young leaves of spring taste the best. As the plant ages, the leaves become bitter and tough.

Not only does sow thistle taste really great, but it's also high in protein, iron, vitamin C, and essential fatty acids. This is a wild edible worth seeking out.

Around here, many people confuse sow thistle with dandelion - but if you pay attention, the only similarity between the two plants is the cheery yellow flower. sow thistle grows tall, quite unlike dandelion, and the leaves are shaped completely different. In addition, sow thistle has many flowers on each stalk; dandelions have a single flower on each stalk.

Sow thistle is also sometimes confused with wild lettuce. However, wild lettuce has a line of hairs (sometimes quite sharp, depending upon the variety) on the underside of the leaves, whereas sow thistle  does not.

It's not just the leaves of sow thistle that are edible, either. The stems can be peeled then steamed or sauteed. The roots are also edible, though quite bitter. Usually they are prepared just like dandelion roots for tea or "coffee."Also like dandelions, some folks pickle the buds.( Just pick them before they start opening and dump them in pickling brine. It's fine to use brine from store bought pickles.) Or pop the buds in a salad. Even the flowers are edible, and are sometimes used to make wine (much like dandelion wine).

As with all wild edibles, use caution. Examine the plant carefully, using a good field guide - and ideally with an experienced forager at your side. Do not eat any plant you can't identify with 100% accuracy.

This post featured at Homestead Abundance.

Aug 22, 2012

What to Do with Crab Apples

Throughout the spring, I've been making note of the apple trees on public land in our area. As it turns out, at least some of them are crab apple trees. And that's okay! Many people won't bother with crab apples, even though they were a staple food source for generations past. In fact, many people around town tell me crab apples are not palatable - or that they are downright poisonous. Happily, neither statement is true. And if you can find "feral" old crab apple trees you can happily note they are pure and organic - not to mention free!

What Are Crab Apples?
A crab apple is simply a very small apple, 2 inches or less in diameter when fully ripe. If you like sour apples, you will probably enjoy eating crab apples without any sweeteners - although it's true that some varieties are more sour than others.

What to Do With Crab Apples (Ideas & Recipes)

For Cooking:
* Grilled ham with crap apple glaze
* Cornish game hens with crab apple glaze * Crab apple marmalade (refrigerated)
* A different spiced crab apple pickle recipe (refrigerated)
* Crab apple relish 
* Crab apple syrup
* French toast with crab apples
* Crab apples poached in wine  
* Apple vinegar

For Baking:
* Crab apple pie
* Crab apple crumble 
* Crab apple kugel
* Crab apple cake
* Crab apple bread

For Canning:
* Applesauce
* Pectin (for making jams and jellies)
* Apple butter
* Crab apple jelly
* Blackberry crab apple jelly
* Crab apple jam
Spiced crab apples
* Spiced crab apple pickles

For Freezing:
* Applesauce
* Pectin (for making jams and jellies)
* Apple butter
* Crab apple jam

For Drinking:
* Crab apple juice* Crab apple liqueur
* Crab apple wine

You'd have to pick a lot of crab apples to try all those recipes! Have fun!

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Jul 20, 2012

Harvesting & Making Your Own Camomile Tea

Several years back, when I had a patch of sunny ground that the weeds wanted to take over, I planted a packet of wild flower seeds there, hoping to choke out many weeds. It did help, and years later, only the heartiest flowers still thrive there. Among those flowers is chamomile, which can also be found in the wild.

This year, I was determined to harvest the chamomile for the first time. Joyously, it's easy as can be, and results in excellent camomile tea.

Why Camomile?
For centuries, the calming power of camomile has been recognized. Camomile may also soothe upset stomachs and cold symptoms, bring on gentle slumber in children, ease nerves, help teething and colic, sooth gas pains, help heal mouth sores, ease the pain of hemorrhoids, and more.

For gardeners, camomile is among the easiest plants to grow. Start by seed after the last threat of frost, on well broken up soil. Keep the seed and seedlings moist, but not damp. Once the plant is established, it needs no additional care and fares well in poor soil, with little water, or with lots of rain.

Types of Camomile
There are a few types of camomile, domestic and wild. All self seed easily, meaning if you don't cut back the flowers, you'll find camomile plants throughout your yard. I don't mind this, as the seedlings are easy to recognize (look for the camomile's feathery leaves) and easy to pull out. And if a seed chooses it's own growing spot, it will typically thrive there.

When trying to identify wild camomile, first smell the plant. It should have that distinctly camomile scent - although there are domestic varieties that are scentless or stink.

If you're planting your own, your best choice is German chamomile - the variety used for most commercial tea, and the type known to have medicinal virtues.

Harvesting & Drying
The flowers are the harvestable part of the camomile plant. Harvest them in the morning, after any dew or wetness has dried away, cutting away only fully opened flowers that haven't begun to wither or turn brown. Using scissors, snip off the flower head, leaving behind all of the stem. I find it easiest to have a bowl sitting nearby, and to cut off a number of flowers one at a time, collecting them in my hand. Then I dump a handful into the bowl and begin again.

If, however, you'll be air drying the flowers, wait until a stalk is filled with blossoms; trim off any dying blooms, then cut off the stalk. Hang the stalk upside down in a cool, dry, dark location (like a closet) until the flowers are completely dry. Finally, cut the flowers off the stems.

I prefer to use an electric dehydrator. Place the just-cut flowers on dehydrator trays and dry at 95 degrees F. until no trace of moisture remains.

Store dried flower heads whole in a glass jar with a well-fitting metal lid in a cool, dry, dark location.

Using Camomile
To make camomile tea, fill one half of a tea ball with dried camomile flowers; for best flavor, or for medicinal purposes, crush the flowers a bit. Cover with boiling water and steep 10 to 15 minutes. If using the tea medicinally, be sure to cover the tea cup with a saucer, so the steam doesn't escape.

The tea may also be cooled and used as a mouth wash, gargle, or poultice.

For a soothing bath, place dried flowers into the center of a square piece of muslin. Bring up the corners and tie them together. Tie this bag to the water spout of the tub, while running the bath water.

CAUTION: A few people are allergic to camomile, especially if they are allergic to plants the ragweed family. In addition, those who take blood thinners should consult a doctor before ingesting camomile.

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Jun 27, 2012

Foraging in the Suburbs

Rose hips.
Last fall, I took my children to a small local park and noticed the ground was littered with rotten walnuts, still mostly in their shells. Later, on our walk home, I passed by a house with an old apple tree - surrounded by rotten fruit.

I find scenes like this sad. Both the walnuts and the apples started out as perfectly wholesome and nutritious food. But through neglect, that good food was allowed to waste. Part of me gets a little angry about that; there are plenty of people in the world who would love to have that food. But I'm just as much to blame as my neighbors. So this year, I've made a vow to help eliminate this sort of food waste. You can, too.

Who is the Food For?
It's perfectly fine to pick local food for yourself and your family and friends. But also consider donating some of the food - especially if it was picked on public property - back to the community through a local food sharing organization. Sometimes you may also share the food with a property owner; more on that in a moment.

Where to Forage
Start paying attention to trees and other plants in your area, all year long; it doesn't matter if you live in a city, the suburb, or the country. As you drive, walk, or bike around, notice if there's any vegetation bearing fruit or nuts. Make a mental note: Is the tree or bush on private property or public land?

Crab apples.
If it's on private property, be observant. If the fruit or nuts don't get picked promptly, or if you see them begin to fall to the ground and rot, knock on the door of the owner. Politely tell her you noticed the falling food; would she mind if you harvested it, if you give her a portion of what you gather? From what I can gather from folks who regularly do this sort of thing, the such property owners are frequently elderly and can't harvest the crops easily themselves. Or sometimes the owner doesn't know how to properly harvest the food, or the owner just isn't interested in putting in time to harvest it. Often the owners are glad to have someone harvest the food, rather it make a mess in their yard. (In some small town papers, owners actually advertise "you pick" free food, just to save them the trouble of cleaning up a crop that rots on their lawn.)

If you don't want to knock on doors, you are still free to harvest the food if it's fallen on the sidewalk. 

If the food is on public land, you don't need to ask for permission to pick it - although you might find resistance if you climb a tree.

Identifying Edibles
What if you're not sure the nuts or fruit the tree produces is edible? I suggest taking photos of the plant (including long shots of the entire plants and up close photos of the leaves and fruit) and doing a little research. Ideally, I'd send the photos to my local extension office for a positive I.D., but a thorough Internet search works, too. A great deal of public land food goes to waste because most people don't recognize it as food. For example, some people think crab apples are inedible - although they definitely are not.

Watch for Chemicals
You should use some care when foraging from trees and bushes in your neighborhood. For example, I wouldn't pick rose hips from public land unless I was certain the roses hadn't been sprayed with chemicals. You may certainly ask private owners if they've sprayed their fruit or nut bearing trees or bushes, but typically, if the crop is neglected, the answer will be "no." In addition, it's not wise to pick from plants right near a busy street. Plants tend to soak up the chemical fumes of vehicles.

Making Foraged Food Edible
Sometimes the real trick to making this sort of free food useable, however, is knowing how to harvest it. For example, we have lots of walnut trees in our area and a lot of people tell me the nuts from them aren't edible because they taste so bitter. However, through research, I've learned they are only bitter if the husks are left in place for more than a day or two. To harvest walnuts, you first have to clear away all the nuts that have fallen off the tree, then return the next day and harvest what's on the ground. Remove the husks, then dry the walnuts by putting them in mesh bags and hanging them in a warm (not hot) location for about 3 weeks.

Similarly, one neighbor told me her crab apples were poisonous. Oh contraire! Another neighbor called me crazy when I picked up the sour baby apples that fell from her tree in the spring, making room for the remaining fruit to grow large; but she was happy to learn they are quite useable.

So as you forage through your neighborhood, you may not only be saving food that can feed your community, you may be teaching your neighbors how to do it, too.

Jun 18, 2012

Roses - More than Just Beautiful

Old fashioned or wild roses are easy to care for and more nutritious than modern hybrids.
There are few people who don't appreciate the beauty of roses, but did you know they also have important nutritional and medicinal purposes? That's right! You can eat roses! Many gardeners are put off by the plant's reputation for needing lots of pampering, but the fact is, only modern hybrids are time consuming to grow. Older varieties and heirlooms, which are better for eating and medicinal purposes anyway, are a cinch to grow. They were, after all, once wild and tenacious.

The most commonly used parts of the rose are the petals and the hips (or seed pods). Rose petals are rich in vitamin C, carotene, the B vitamins, and vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and copper, although the amount of nutrition varies depending upon the type of rose being eaten. The best choice for vitamin C is the dog rose (R. canina). Pick them in the morning after any dew has dried off, selecting only the freshest blooms. Cut off the white part of the petal, near the base, because it can be unpleasantly bitter.

Rose hips.
Rose hips appear once the flowers are spent. They turn red in the late fall, usually after the first frost, and are perfect for picking. (Some modern varieties of roses never produce rose hips; also, some roses never produce hips because gardeners cut back stems after the flowers die. Avoid doing this; the latest research suggests it doesn't actually make the plant produce more blooms, anyway. You can also wait to prune rose bushes until early spring.)

Fresh rose hips are a superb source of vitamin C; they have 20 to 40 percent more vitamin C than oranges (depending upon the variety), 25 percent more iron and vitamin A than oranges, 28 percent more calcium than oranges, and are a great source of vitamin E, manganese, bioflavanoids, and B-complex vitamins.

Rose leaves are mostly used for tea.
Rose leaves are also edible. They can be dried and used for tea that tastes similar to black tea. You may pick them any time of year, but they are supposed to taste best if picked before the plant blooms. Be sure not to over-pick from any one plant, since it can weaken, and perhaps kill, the rose bush.

Rose Petal Recipes:

Rose Salad: Add fresh rose petals to any salad.

Rose Petal Sugar: In a glass jar, layer sugar and rose petals, using about ¼ cup lightly packed petals and 1 cup sugar overall. Cover and let stand in a cool, dark location for about a week. Remove the petals; sugar will be lumpy. Use in baking, tea, etc.

Sugared Rose Petals: With a pastry brush, gently coat rose petals on both sides with beaten egg white. Arrange petals on a cooling rack and sprinkle with sugar on both sides. Dry in a cool, dry location until hardened. Store layered with waxed paper in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Makes a gorgeous addition to cake and cupcake decorations.

Rose Petal Vinegar: Fill a jar with a snug metal lid with fresh rose petals. Bring some apple cider vinegar to a simmer, then pour over the rose petals in the jar. Put the lid on and allow to sit in a cool, dark location for one to six weeks. Strain. Great for soothing bug bites, using as a hair rinse, or for salad dressings.

Rose Petal Jelly:
3 cups of good clean spring water, the juice of 1 lemon or about 2 tablespoons full, 2 cups of granulated sugar, 1 box (packet) of pectin or 3 ozs of liquid pectin, petals from 6 roses or about 2 cups worth. (this could be 1 cup of frozen and reconstituted petals)

In a blender or food processor, pulse 3 cups water and 2 cups lightly packed rose petals until chopped. Pour the water/petal mixture into a saucepan placed over medium heat. Bring to a boil, turning off the heat immediately afterward. Allow to steep for half an hour. Strain with a fine strainer. Discard the petals. Strain again. Place the liquid into a clean saucepan; cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 3 oz. liquid pectin. Stir until sugar dissolves. Boil for 10 minutes. Pour into jelly jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Drying rose hips.

Rose Hip Recipes:
Rose Hip Stew: Add freshly prepared rose hips to soups or stews.

Rose Hip Tea: Steep two tablespoons of fresh, chopped rose hips in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Or, use two teaspoons of dry rose hips and steep 10 to 15 minutes.

Rose Hip Syrup: Place fresh rose hips in a saucepan and barely cover them with water. Bring to a boil. Simmer until soft, about 10 or 15 minutes. Cool. Strain with a fine sieve. In a glass jar, pour one part honey to two parts of rose hip liquid. Stir and refrigerate. Keeps for about two weeks; use on pancakes or ice cream. 

Rose Hip Jelly:  Pour 2 cups rose hips and 2 cups water into a pan and place over medium heat. Cook until tender. Strain through a fine sieve. Add 1 cup sugar to every cup of pulp. In a clean pan, cook until thickens to the consistency of jam. Process in a hot water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Learn more about rose hips in my 2009 post on this topic.

Rose Leaf Recipes:

Rose Leaf Tea: Dehydrated freshly picked rose leaves at 95 degrees F. until completely dry. Crumble the leaves into a tea ball, pour boiling water over, and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. This leaf tea is traditionally used to reduce fevers, but is also a tasty substitute for decaf black tea.

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May 31, 2012

Eat Your Weeds: Plantain

It comes up through the cracks in the sidewalk. You'll find it in otherwise barren lots. It abounds in wilderness areas and plagues gardeners everywhere. Thankfully (like the much-maligned dandelion), it's also useful. "It" is plantain, a plant most people consider a difficult-to-get-rid of weed, but which has provided food and medicine in North America since pre-colonial times.

There are two basic types of plantain: the broad leaf Plantago major and the narrow (or lance) leaf Plantago
lanceolata. Broad leaf plantain has (you guessed it!) broad, oval-ish, ribbed leaves about 4 to 8 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wides. It's "flower," which looks like a straight shoot, quickly turns into a cluster of seeds. You can see pictures of broad leaf plantain over at Wikipedia.

Narrow leaf plantain has long, sharp-pointed, ribbed leaves that are no more than an inch or so wide. It also has a flower shoot that features many seeds. This is the type of plantain in my yard, and the type pictured throughout this post. (You can see more photographs here.)

Most gardeners try to eradicated this tenacious weed from their gardens. Here are two reason why you might want to keep a few in yours - or why you might want to seek out this weed in a wilderness area:

1. All parts of plantain are edible. Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A), B1, riboflavin, calcium, and fiber. The plant is also a good source of vitamin C and fiber. The young leaves, found in early to mid-spring, can be eaten like lettuce or greens. Toss them into a salad or put them in your sandwich. Or throw them into a pot of soup or stew. Or saute them like I do my collard greens. My children (ages 6 and 3) love eating the leaves raw, freshly picked and washed. Many people find the older leaves (those found in late spring, summer, or fall) too fiberous too eat raw, but they may still be cooked. I've read that plantain leaves are supposed to be slightly nutty in flavor; this is not the case with the plantain in my yard. It just tastes like a mild green.

Plantain flowers and seeds are also edible; many people toss them into salads.  I've read they are supposed to have a peanuty flavor, but I think they taste like rotting peanuts; again, maybe this has to do with the variety growing in our area.

The roots are also used in teas, and the stems may be eaten, also.

2. Plantain is medicinal. The most common use for plantain is insect bites, stings, cuts, scrapes, hemorrhoids, rashes, or sores. Traditionally, people lightly chewed up the leaves a bit in their mouth, then applied the leaf to the affected area. But because our mouths are full of germs, I instead recommend bruising or crushing the leaves in a mortar and pestle or with your hands. You can also use the dried leaves (or the leaves, roots, and flowers) for making a tea or mouthwash that's excellent for healing all manner of mouth sores. A few days ago, my daughter had a very painful sore in her mouth. I made a plantain mouthwash for her and the pain almost immediately disappeared. The following day, after another rinse, her sore was gone.

Drinking plantain tea is also a proven expectorant and decongestant, which makes it great for things like bronchitis, colds, and the flu. Plantain may also help control blood sugar, "bad" cholesterol, and asthma. One of plantain's common names, Snakebite Weed, tells of another traditional medicinal use: on snake bites. This may make sense because plantain is a known anti-bacterial and antiseptic. But please, if you're bitten by a snake, seek professional medical help.

Harvesting and Preparing Plantain

Plantain may be harvested at any time of year, although for eating purposes, some people won't collect the leaves after the late spring (when they become more fibrous). As with all wild edibles, avoid harvesting in areas where chemicals (including herbicides and vehicle fumes) may make the plant toxic. Wash the plant under cool, running water at least two or three times, then pat dry. The plant may now be eaten raw, or it can be cooked.

Dry plantain leaves in a dehydrator at 95 degrees F. until no trace of moisture exists. If you don't have a dehydrator, place the leaves on a wire cooling rack placed over a baking tray and put them in your oven's warming drawer at 95 degrees F. or the lowest available temperature setting. If your oven doesn't have a warming drawer, place the leaves (on a wire rack atop a baking tray) in your oven at it's lowest setting. Roots may be dehydrated at 135 degrees F.

To make plantain leaf tea, crumble the leaves into one half of a tea ball, filling the half to about capacity. Close the tea ball and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. As with all medicinal teas, it's best to cover the cup with a saucer while steeping. To make a tea with leaves plus the roots and/or flowers, fill the opposite side of the tea ball with crumbled or ground flowers and ground roots. (Grind the roots in a coffee grinder.)

To use the tea as a mouthwash, allow the tea to cool to lukewarm before using.

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