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

Mar 29, 2018

Foraging Horsetail for Food & Medicine

Eating Horsetail, Horsetail Medicine

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site! 

My first encounter with horsetail didn't impress me much. My mom-in-law pointed out the plant growing near a beach, explaining that native Indians used it to scrub with, much like we'd use a plastic bottlebrush today. The plant she pointed to was easy enough to recognize - a stalk with stiff "bristles" coming out on all sides. Certainly easy to recognize.

Years later, in one of my foraging books, I saw just how remarkable horsetail truly could be. First, I learned that what I'd seen growing near the beach was the non-fertile version of the plant (sometimes called "the female"). That's right, horsetail produces two distinctive-looking plants! What really impressed me was the fertile versions of the plant (sometimes called "the male"). It's not only prehistoric-looking, but phallic in shape. And, lo! Horsetail, I learned, is both edible and medicinal! Bonus: It's packed with good minerals and nurtients.

So when I found horsetail growing on our homestead last year, I was pretty excited. Because I didn't time things right, though, I didn't try eating it. This year, I made sure I was more on top of things, and last weekend, my family gave eating horsetail a try.

Horsetail's bulb-like rhizomes are edible. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Identifying Horsetail

There are 20 species of horsetail that are native to North America and Europe. On our homestead, we have giant horsetail. (Other names for horsetail include field horsetail, scouring brush, bottlebrush, shave grass, corncob plant, scouring rush, field horsetail, pewterwort, paddock-pipes, Dutch rushes, and snake pipes. They are in the Equisetum family.)

All horsetail have jointed stems that break apart easily and burst with watery liquid. The plant generally prefers damp soil; I find it in boggy areas around the homestead.

Examining a horsetail patch.

Eating Horsetail Rhizomes

The rhizomes (a type of root) are edible - though I've not tried them yet. Before you can dig them up and eat them, you need to spot a patch of horsetail in the spring, when it sends up its strange shoots. Note the location, and next year, before horsetail begins shooting up, dig around the spent shoots to find the rhizomes. Peel them and add them to the stew pot, or peel and slice and add them to salads.

Eating Horsetail's Fertile Shoots
Fertile horsetail shoots.

In early spring, the nutrient-rich, fertile shoots appear, resembling asparagus. Color varies; with our giant horsetail, the fertile plant comes in tones of light and dark brown. These "males" are non-photosynthesizing and have a cone-like top with rows of spore-bearing dots. They grow up to 2 feet tall (some species grow taller), and should be harvested before their cone-tops turn dark.

To eat these shoots, simply cut them off at ground level, then peel off the dark brown stripes found along the joints of the plant. (These stripes are packed with silica, which is bad for your teeth and could cause irritation in the body.) Cut off the cone-like tops, too.

Traditionally, horsetail is usually eaten raw. I tried it this way and found it quite pleasant - very similar to celery in texture and mild taste. But because it tends to grow in boggy areas, my husband wondered if it was a risk due to e. coli. I've read a lot of foraging books and websites, and I've never seen this mentioned in regard to
Fertile shoots that are dark on top (right) aren't very good eating.
horsetail...but in order to play it extra safe, I went ahead and boiled the stalks for my family's consumption. This gave the plant a super-mild flavor (similar to cooked celery) and made it mushy, instead of crisp. You may also steam the shoots.

In the future, we will probably stick to eating the plant raw. (I eat a lot of raw wild foods, and I personally don't believe there is a greater risk of e. coli in horsetail than in the other wild foods I eat. However, I am not a physician, nor should I be considered an expert in this area.)
Dark stripes should be removed before eating.

Eating Horsetail's Non-Fertile Shoots
Mature non-fertile horsetail. Courtesy of

After the fertile shoots pop up, the female plant (which looks like a green bottle brush) appears. At first, it's spike-like leaves are tight to the plant, but gradually they expand out, giving the plant its distinctive look.

Although some foraging books say you shouldn't eat the non-fertile shoots, natives did, and so do many modern foragers, consuming them the same way they do the fertile shoots. However, the non-fertile shoots are much more work because you must peel them completely before consumption. (the outer layer is too full of silica to be safe to eat.) In addition, some sources claim non-fertile shoots must be "thoroughly boiled" before eating. Douglas Deur, in his book Pacific Northwest Foraging, notes that boiling with repeated changes to the water reduces any toxicity that might be found in the plant, due to chemicals in the soil.

Horsetail Medicine

Immature non-fertile shoots
Another way horsetail is unique is that it's one of the few plants with bio-available silica. Therefore, drinking horsetail tea can help repair damaged bones and connective tissue, while also encouraging strong hair and nails. The tea is also traditionally used to support the kidney, bladder, and prostate.

In addition, horsetail is diuretic, and herbalists sometimes use it to treat urinary tract infections, or to dissolve urinary stones. It's also said horsetail can curb excessive menstrual flow and internal bleeding and treat bronchitis, tuberculosis, and asthma.

An immature non-fertile shoot.
In addition to its high silica content, horsetail is full of calcium, sulfur, manganese, potassium, silicic acid, flavonoids, saponins, sterols, aluminum salts, and tannins.

There is a big HOWEVER when using horsetail as medicine. This plant should never be consumed regularly or for a long period of time because it can lead to thiamine deficiency.

When making horsetail medicine, always harvest non-fertile shoots before their leaves begin to droop. This helps prevent digestive upset. To dry the plant, hang whole stalks in a cool, dark location. It's important to avoid breathing in silica crystals that may appear as dust once the plant is dried; it is very irritating to the respiratory tract. To be extra cautious, wear a mask when placing dried horsetail in jars or creating herbal powders from the dried plant material.

Horsetail Tea

Pour boiling water over about 2 or 3 grams of chopped non-fertile horsetail stalk. Cover with a saucer and allow the tea to steep for 10 or 15 minutes. Remove the saucer and strain the tea through two layers of cheesecloth. Drink 4 oz. three times daily between meals.

Horsetail Tincture
More experience herbalists can turn fresh horsetail into a tincture (1:5). Consume 1 - 4 ml. three times daily.
Horsetail is made of segments, each containing mineral water.

Just as all prescription medicines have warnings, so do natural medicines.

Marsh horsetail (Equisetum palustre) is potentially toxic. (See also.)

Consuming horsetail for a long period of time may lead to a thiamine deficiency. Eating horsetail raw and in quantity may result in a depletion of B1. (Eating it cooked does not pose this risk.)

For some people, eating quantities of horsetail raw "may be mildly toxic" (Deur). Horsetail is toxic to livestock and perhaps to pets. When handling dried horsetail, it's wise to wear a mask to avoid the irritating dust it might produce.

As with all wild edibles, pay attention to where you harvest. Horsetail is especially good at absorbing heavy metals and chemicals in the soil. Also, it's possible to be allergic to any plant. Show wisdom by eating a small quantity to see if your body reacts negatively.

If horsetail is used with Benzodiazepines, Disulfiram, or Metronidazole, it may cause "a disulfiram-like reaction." (Source.) Taking horsetail along with medicines that deplete the body of potassium (like corticosteroids, diuretics, and laxative stimulants) increases the risk of developing dangerously low potassium. Do not use horsetail with licorice, since it may lead to low levels of potassium.

Do not take horsetail medicinally if you are pregnant or nursing, have heart problems, drink too much alcohol, or are prone to thiamine deficiencies.

Large quantities of the horsetail can be toxic because it contains thiaminase, which has the potential to deplete the body of B vitamins. In small quantities, this is not an issue. Cooking horsetail also eliminates this problem.

Disclaimer: 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 allowed 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.

Jul 24, 2017

Foraging for Wild Berries

Foraging for Wild Berries, Eating Wild Berries, Picking Wild Berries
A bucket of wild berries. That's what started it. On my personal Facebook page, I posted a photo of a bucket of wild berries I'd picked, and suddenly I was getting all kinds of messages: "Are those really safe to eat????" "We've had those for years, and I never knew I could eat them!" "Will you teach me about eating wild berries?"

Even though we - like most Americans - live in a wild berry-rich environment, most people have no idea so many of them are edible.

But here's the thing: Wild foods are generally more nutritious than what you buy in the store. (Years of selective breeding - which has nothing to do with GMOs, by the way - have given us standard garden and grocery store varieties that might look pretty and hold up well to handling, but are less nutritious than they once were.) And who can argue with the idea that free food is good food? Not me! And while I don't advocate harvesting all the wild berries you find - animals need some, too, and left-behind berries lead to more berry bushes or briars - it's a shame more people don't take advantage of the free food around them. (When we lived in the suburbs, a lot of local people needed food - especially healthy food - and we had tons of wild berries and public fruit trees around that very few people took advantage of. So sad!)

How to Learn Which Berries Are Safe

Most people are smart enough to know that if you can't positively identify a wild plant, you should never eat from it. But very few bother to learn which plants are safe to eat. Maybe they aren't sure how to go about it. Here are some ways I've learned these things:

* Talk to old timers. They grew up in an era when harvesting from the wild was more common and they can often teach you which berries they grew up eating.

* Get some great guide books. To be truly useful, they should focus on foraging in your region and have plenty of color photos to help you identify plants. I recommend using the Internet in conjunction with such books. For example, if you think you've identified a certain type of berry using you foraging guide book, hop online and search for more information. I like to do an image search to make sure the plant I think I have corresponds with the images; then I'll read a bit more about the plant online.

* Consult your local extension office. Many extension offices will help you identify local, edible berries - and they may even supply recipes for eating and preserving them, too. To find your local extension office, click here.

Salal berries.
Where to Look for Wild Berries

The next hurdle is teaching people to open their eyes to the food growing all around them. It's truly a matter of practice.

If you live in a city or the suburbs, try scouting for berries at parks, on the edges of parking lots, rest stops, around athletic short, anyplace nature has been allowed to take over. State parks are often an excellent place to begin your wild berry quest, too. (It's perfectly legal to pick berries at state parks, as long as it's for your own personal use.) I recommend finding a ranger at the park, and telling him or her your mission. Often the ranger can give you tips for where to find good patches of berries.

In rural areas, seek out the edges of forests, or openings within the forest, which offer enough sun for berries to grow and thrive.

Do be careful not to wander onto private land. If you pick berries on someone else's property, that's called stealing. On the other hand, it's fine to knock on someone's door and ask if you may pick berries on their land. The kind thing to do is to offer to give some of the berries you pick to the landowner.

Also, you'll want to avoid picking berries near the roadside or railroads (where they may be contaminated with vehicle pollution) or anywhere that might have been sprayed with an herbicide (like along roadsides).

Good Beginner Berries
Bunchberries. Courtesy of Jason Hollinger.

For the novice wild berry forager, it's usually best to stick to berries that resemble garden variety types. This includes:

* Blackberries
* Raspberries
* Strawberries
* Salmonberries (which look a lot like raspberries, but may be salmon-colored)
* Cranberries
* Blueberries

Later you can move on to learning about some of the less known berries, including:

* Salal
* Thimbleberries
* Huckleberries
* Gooseberries
* Currents
* Chokeberries
* Bunchberries
* Elderberries
* Hawthorne
* Juneberries/Serviceberries

and many others.

Added Resource: A list of common poisonous berries. Remember, there may be others in your area! Never eat any berry you cannot positively identify.

Black elderberries. Courtesy of R. A. Nonenmacher and Wikimedia Commons.

* Title image (wild currants) courtesy of Emilie Barbier.

Apr 24, 2017

Mid-Spring Edible Weed Walk

It's amazing how fast new wild edibles pop up at this time of year! Join me as I take you around our homestead to discover many nutritious, edible, and tasty weeds that you can probably find in your neck of the woods.

Find more information about some of the weeds mentioned, see these blog posts:

Curly/Yellow Dock 
Early Spring Edible Weed Walk


Apr 10, 2017

Foraging for Miner's Lettuce

How to Identify, Eat, and Grow this Super FoodThis post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this site!

Imagine it's the days of the California Gold Rush. Despite the lofty name given the period, times are tough. Gold is hard to find, and you went into debt to buy the things you needed to try to strike it rich. Food isn't abundant in the winter. In fact, you may be totally out of winter provisions. You might also be feeling tired and sickly. Then the first spring rains come, and you learn from a native friend that there's a cure for your winter ailments: A common, abundant weed that will make you feel better and fill your stomach.

Today that weed is commonly called Miner's Lettuce, because so many gold miners cherished it as a way to prevent scurvy. It's got lots of vitamin C, and is one of late winter and early spring's first wild offerings. Most often, it's eaten raw, as in a salad, but it can be cooked like spinach, too, and tastes similar to that green.

Common miner's lettuce's lily pad shaped leaf is easy to spot. Courtesy of Wikimedia and Franco Folini.
Identifying Common Miner's Lettuce

There are two main types of Miner's Lettuce in the United States. The most common, if foraging guidebooks are to be believed, is called simply "Miner's Lettuce." According to most sources, it's not native to this continent, but is believed to have been introduced to North America from Europe in 1794. It's sometimes called Indian lettuce, Cuban lettuce, winter purslane, miner's green, spring beauty, or it's Latin name, Claytonia perfoliata. It grows primarily in western North America, especially in coastal or mountainous regions, from Alaska and British Columbia down through Arizona and Central America. It can also be found in the interior western states. It tends to grow in great patches and has distinctively round, lily pad like leaves. This plant loves moist areas and tends to grow abundantly from late winter to mid-spring, notably in shady, wooded areas. It particularly loves disturbed areas of soil, especially if the area has recently seen fire.
Before blooming. Courtesy of Wikimedia and Rob Hille.

Miner's lettuce grows in a rosette, up to about 15 inches high. Usually the leaves are green, but the first young leaves may be purple or even brown-green. The mature leaves have very long stems - up to about 8 inches long. The five petaled flowers are pink or white and 3/4 - 1 1/2 inches long, appearing from about February through June.

Courtesy of Wikimedia and Rob Hille.

Courtesy of Wikimedia and
More rare purple miner's lettuce. Courtesy of Wikimedia and Jason Hollinger.
Identifying Siberian Miner's Lettuce

Our Siberian miner's lettuce starts purple and slowly turns green with time.

The second type of miner's lettuce is commonly called "Siberian Miner's Lettuce," or sometimes Siberian spring beauty, Western spring beauty, candy flower, pink purslane, or it's Latin name, Montia sibirica. It's native to both Siberia, and according to some sources, North America. (Other sources have the plant introduced to North America in the 18th century.) It grows over much of western North America, including Alaska down to British Columbia, down to California and Montana, and then west to Utah.

This plant is quite different in appearance from the other type of miner's lettuce. It's leaves and stems are lanceolate (almost heart shaped), succulent, thick, and about 2/5 - 2 inches wide. Early leaves can be purple, but more mature leaves are green. They grow in a basal rosette. The plant has 3 - 8 inch flowers with five pink, white, or pink and white striped petals. It usually flowers between February and August. It's stems grow about 4 - 14 inches high. Like common miner's lettuce, Siberian miner's lettuce often grows in patches, though I've also found single plants in our forest. You're most likely to see Siberian miner's lettuce in moist woods.

Close up of a Siberian miner's lettuce leaf.
Growth habit of Siberian miner's lettuce.
Siberian miner's lettuce flower.
A clump of Siberian miner's lettuce.
How to Eat Miner's Lettuce
Both types of miner's lettuce are edible raw or cooked. Usually the leaf is used, but stems, and flowers are all edible and high in vitamins A and C. This plant does contain oxalates (just like almonds, tea, rhubarb, and bananas), which can build up in the body and be toxic. So be smart: Vary your diet! (Read more about oxalates here.)

According to foraging expert Hank Shaw, The Journal of the American Dietetic Association says that every 100 grams of miner's lettuce (about as much as you'd use in a salad) contains 33.3% of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, 22% the vitamin A, and 10% of the iron.

Herbalists say miner's lettuce cleanses the body. It's high in chlorophyll and antioxidants, which may back up their claim. This wild green is also said to contain Oega-3 fatty acids, although I could find no scientific papers to back up this claim.

To harvest, cut the stems off near the soil, or cut off the leaves only. Young leaves taste best and have the best nutrition. Once the plant flowers, the leaves may taste more tangy. Older leaves, or plants growing in the sun, can taste bitter. Usually the flowers - only fresh ones - are left on the leaves and added to salads. Harvest responsibly. Leave plenty of the plant behind, so wildlife can reap its benefits, and so the plant will continue to thrive and spread.

Planting Miner's Lettuce from Seed

If you don't have miner's lettuce nearby, you can now buy seeds for it! Both Territorial Seed Company and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds carry common miner's lettuce seeds. You can even buy common miner's lettuce seeds on Amazon!

Just remember that like most wild plants, if given a setting they like, miner's lettuce will spread. So consider planting it in a container, and make sure you remove flowers before they go to seed.

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.

Siberian Miner's Lettuce 

You May Also Be Interested In:

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.